Autism Spectrum Disorder – A Medical Guide
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a term for a group of brain developmental disorders. These disorders are forms of autism that range from mild to more severe. They include autistic disorder (classic autism), pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. ASD includes two disorders called Retts syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. Of the more common forms of autism, Asperger’s is a more mild form of autism and is frequently referred to as “higher-functioning.” On the opposite end, childhood disintegrative disorder is the most severe of the ASDs. When dealing with a child with ASD the more knowledge a family has the better they will be able to cope with the condition.
Originally, in the early 20th century, autism was considered a type of schizophrenia. In the 1940s, medical professionals began to associate autism with emotional problems. Treatment during this time and up to the 1970s included recommendations of frontal lobotomies, electric shock, and pain and punishment behavior change techniques. In addition, autism was often blamed on what was known as “refrigerator moms.” The term referred to mothers that were said to be emotionally cold, which forced their children to withdraw into themselves.
The actual cause is varied and cannot be placed on any single condition or problem. Typically, genetic and environmental factors are the most common causes behind the condition. In some cases certain medical conditions, such as developmental brain abnormalities or congenital infections, may also contribute to autism. Although many people fear that vaccines, such as the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, may cause autism, studies have shown that there is no link to vaccinations and ASD.
Typically ASD begins before children turn three years old. People with autism display a number of symptoms that can begin to develop as early as 18 months. At an early age a child may fail to respond when called by name, avoid eye contact and may not show interest in objects or playing in general. Often children with autism have limited communication and social skills. They may have delayed speech, talk in highly animated or flat voices, and may respond to questions with unusual and unrelated responses. Socially, autistic children may prefer to be by themselves, have little facial expression and prefer not to be touched. Often autistic children do not have a sense of personal space or boundaries and may not understand emotional responses. Another common trait is repetitive behavior. This may include rocking back and forth, playing with a certain feature of a toy over and over again or saying the same words repeatedly. Other signs of autism may include, but are not limited to, hyperactivity, aggression, temper tantrums, extreme emotional responses and self-inflicting injuries.
In order to diagnose a child has autism, a medical professional will perform an evaluation or assessment that is based on of medical history, developmental tests, observations and interviews with the parents. Preferably a diagnosis should be made as early as possible, before the child turns three years old. The child’s symptoms must also meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for autism. In order to do that, the child must display up to six pre-defined symptoms in the categories of behavior, communication and social skills. All of the symptoms cannot fall into a single category however, as no less than two must be related to social skills.
Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment begins. Treatment for the condition is ongoing but for the most part does not involve medication. In some cases however, medication may be given if the child suffers from extreme anxiety or stress. Typical treatment includes therapy programs that are designed to address communication and behavior. These types of programs are meant to help children function in social situations and to better communicate with those around them. Educational programs that are highly structured are also a form of treatment for autistic children and may also help them with their social and communication skills. Even with treatment there is currently no cure for autism. Because the condition is so varied from one child to another, there is not a single prognosis that covers all forms of ASD. Symptoms for some autistic individuals may lessen with age, but will never completely resolve. In some cases, people with mild autism may be able to work and even drive as an adult, while others with more severe ASDs may not.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition that affects one out of 88 children. When a family member suspects that their child or loved one has ASD, it is important to see a healthcare professional for so that it can be diagnosed as early as possible. Because there are five different forms of autism, the severity of ASD varies greatly. Although it can be hard to determine exactly what to expect in terms of treatment and prognosis, knowledge can help families better understand what they are dealing with and can make it easier to get the help that they need.
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