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Defining Autism

image005Many have heard about a child with autism, or at least know that the condition exists throughout the world, yet few tend to understand exactly what autism is until they are either in education, counseling, or become a parent or close family member to a child on the autism spectrum. According to the CDC, “autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” Additionally, “a diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autism disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.” (CDC) Several of these conditions are a milder form of autism, such as Asperger syndrome, while classical ASD is considered the most severe form of the condition. Other conditions can include childhood disintegrative disorder and even more common ailments such as Attention-Deficit-Disorder or Attention-Deficit-Hyperactive-Disorder.  The diagnosis (or diagnoses) received will determine what treatments are pursued, and determine what parents and family members can do at home to help their child.

Autism is used to describe a brain disorder where the various sections of the brain refuse to work together, making it difficult for those with autism to communicate and relate with others around them. Many may consider the previous statement to be the definition of autism; however, each form of autism requires its own unique description. In Disconnected Kids, Dr. Melillo discussed that childhood neurobehavioral and neuroacademic disorders are in fact one condition that occurs with different sets of symptoms. In fact, the majority of childhood neurological conditions are classified by Dr. Melillo as one disorder, Functional Disconnection Syndrome (FDS). Whichever areas or part of the brain are affected will determine what symptoms the child will portray.

The CDC discusses that autism is the term for a variety of complex brain development disorders. Each child who is diagnosed with autism has a different variation of the condition. When you meet one child with autism, you have only met that one child with autism and not every child with an autism spectrum disorder. As such, the core features of a child with autism are influenced by a wide variety of factors, such as genetics, environment, stress, infections, and preterm birth.

ASD Population in USA

In the last decade, the prevalence of ASD diagnoses has increased by two percent for children aged six to seventeen years old. According to parent reports, this 2% increase in diagnoses means that 1 of every 50 children in this age group may receive an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. The previous estimate in 2007 was 1 in every 86 children for six to seventeen year olds. This increase in numbers may be occurring due to more accurate diagnoses; however, it is believed that autism spectrum disorders will become even more commonplace and affect a greater percentage of young children in the years to come.

Thousands of children are being diagnosed somewhere along the autism spectrum every day. Whether it is ADHD, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other frightening and disconcerting conditions, a diagnosis means the child’s brain is not functioning appropriately. According to reports, nearly 16 million children have already been diagnosed with severe attention, behavioral, and learning problems. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has called the sudden and sharp increase of these numbers for childhood neurological disorders a “Major Health Threat.” In the 1980’s, autism was considered a rare disorder that affected only 1 in every 10,000 children born. Today, the prevalence of autism is 1 of every 50. As medical professionals continue to observe this increase, there will be a higher percentage of diagnoses, with males being twice as susceptible as females. As a result, there has been a 46.9 percent increase in the number of children who must attend special education classes for either neurological or other disorders which affect their daily learning.

image006Recognizing Symptoms of Autism

Children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder typically have difficulties with social, emotional, and communication skills. Since they have different ways of learning, reacting to things, and even paying attention in daily conversations, symptoms tend to be noted early and allow for early intervention.

By the time a child is 18 months old, most parents will recognize if there have been any developmental delays and begin seeking help before the child is two years old.

Children diagnosed with ASD often struggle with:

  • Imaginative or pretend play
  • Socialization
  • Understanding and using verbal and nonverbal communication

Examples of communication issues may include:

  • Speech and language skill delay
  • Presence of echolalia, or the repetition of last word or phrases
  • Reverse pronouns, such as saying “you” instead of “I”
  • Does not provide related answers to questions
  • Does not point nor respond to pointing
  • Uses few or no body language gestures, such as waving goodbye
  • Talks in either a flat, robotic, or sing-song like voice
  • Shows no pretend play, such as pretending to ‘feed’ a doll
  • Has difficulty with or does not understand jokes, sarcasm, or teasing

Examples of social issues may include:

  • Has difficulty making friends
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Often withdraws to avoid social interaction
  • Lacks normal eye contact and tends to avoid eye contact
  • Views others as objects
  • Does not respond to interactive games, nor do they take turns or share
  • Has difficulty understanding other peoples’ feelings

Examples of sensory issues may include:

  • Seem to have either low response, or no response, to sudden loud noises
  • May have heightened or reduced reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
  • Is not comfortable with normal noises, resulting in them holding their hands over their ears
  • Avoids or resists physical contact
  • May rub surfaces, mouths or lick objects
  • High tolerance for pain, or a very low threshold for pain

Potential Causes of Autism

Scientists and doctors are still unsure what specifically causes any condition on the autism spectrum disorder, yet studies suggest both genetics and environment play a role with a number of autism associated genes. The abnormalities found in those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have suggested that autism occurs early in fetal development by defective genes and a disruption in normal brain development.

Many major medical groups state that neither parental practices nor vaccines are known to cause autism. However, many parents believe they do. As such, parents should continue following normal guidelines for prenatal care, including taking the appropriate prenatal vitamins, and are encouraged to have their child receive all necessary vaccines upon birth and throughout their child’s life. At the same time, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that no links have been found between ASD and vaccines, but autism experts recommend that concerned parents follow an alternative or delayed vaccination schedule.

 

How Autism is Diagnosed

image007Autism is not a condition that should be diagnosed at home, but a diagnosis that should come directly from a professionally trained doctor who knows what to look for and where the child would fall on the autism spectrum.

Routine developmental assessments should be conducted by a child’s pediatrician for all children, although additional observations may be needed if either the parents or doctors are concerned. Further testing will be suggested if a child fails to meet any or all of the following developmental milestones for language:

  • No babbling or making word like sounds by twelve months
  • No using single words by sixteen months
  • No pointing, waving bye-bye, making eye contact, or using other gestures by twelve months
  • No using two word spontaneous phrases by twenty-four months
  • Any loss of social or language skills at any age
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Unusual sensory reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Children who fail to meet the above language milestones may receive a hearing evaluation, blood lead test, and an ASD screening test. A health care provider whom is experienced and well trained in diagnosing and treating ASD will make the official diagnosis. Since there is no specific biological test, such as a blood test, to identify ASD, the diagnosis is created and based on the guidelines outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-V).

The guidelines followed in this manual often require an ASD evaluation to include a complete physical and neurologic examination, along with other tests to determine if there are any genetic or metabolic issues.

Since ASD includes a wide range of symptoms, no one test or brief evaluation will predict the child’s true abilities. A team of specialists will evaluate the child in the following areas:

  • Communication
  • Language and speech
  • Motor skills
  • Academic success
  • Thinking abilities

Parents may fear an ASD diagnosis and the label that may come with it, yet without the diagnosis, the child may not receive the necessary treatment and services to help them succeed.

Treatments for Autism

Current studies show that there is no cure for ASD, although early intervention with the proper intensity and a specially designed program for each individual child will provide the best outlook. The following programs are designed with the child’s interest and needs in mind and will consist of a highly structured schedule of various constructive activities to help them succeed.

A combination of the following techniques and programs will be used to create a suitable treatment plan:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Speech-Language therapy
  • Medications
  • Diet
  • Other approaches discussed with a medical professional, such as:
    • Bio-Medical Treatment
    • Music Therapy
    • Art Therapy
    • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
    • Stem Cell Therapy
    • Animal Therapy

Impact of ASD on the USA

As one of the fastest growing developmental disorder, autism is one of the most underfunded. The impact of those with an autism spectrum disorder on the United States is one that greatly concerns the future. The CDC reports the following potential economic costs:

  • A child with ASD costs $17,000 more per year than a child without – this number includes cost for health care, therapy treatments, caregivers, education, along with family-coordinated services.
  • Children with severe ASD will cost a minimum of $21,000 per year.
  • Both young children and teenagers with ASD had combined average medical expenditures that were four to six times as great as children without ASD.
  • Lastly, along with the typical medical costs, the behavioral interventions suggested for those with ASD can cost a family anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 per year.

For parents who find themselves concerned with the vast challenges facing them with a child with ASD, AutismCareNow.com provides useful information and additional insight to help parents become more at ease and feel in control of the three greatest challenges they are facing: caregivers, education, and health care. By accessing the extensive profiles of caregivers, special needs practitioners, and schools provided by AutismCareNow.com, parents and families can build an individualized care team that caters to their child’s needs. Through creating a team with members who all work together, the process becomes smoother and more beneficial for the child. Combining all of these common issues, providing more in-depth information, and creating a united team allows parents to have more hope for the future. Additionally, AutismCareNow.com allows parents to personalize their child’s care team and care plan, helping parents feel included and allowing them to be proactive in making decisions about their child’s life.

References

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2014). Autism Fact Sheet.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise (2014). Autism – Topic Overview.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Data and Statistics.