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Autism: What Every Mother Needs to Know


By Elsa Cremer


Imagine this: Your child is getting dressed for school, sifting through the shirts hanging in the closet. He pulls out a blue collared button up shirt. Suddenly, the sight of the cream colored buttons that run the length of the shirt makes his mouth tense up and triggers an overwhelming gritty metallic taste in his mouth. Or this: you make scrambled eggs for breakfast but your daughter won't come near the table because the mere sight and smell makes her nauseous and squirmy. These sensory sensitivities are what some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) encounter on a daily basis. Everyday objects - the texture of a food, the scent of a candle, the sound of a car, or the mere sight of button - can easily cause a negative reaction in individuals living with Autism.


Just over ten years ago, Autism was considered a rare and mysterious disease that was incurable and lifelong. According to the Autism Society of America, this disorder is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S.A. One and half million Americans suffer from some sort of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Today we know that Autism is treatable, although there is no cure. In just two years, the incidence of Autism in children has risen from 1 in 166, in 2004 to 1 in 150 currently. According to the Center for Disease Control, this prevalence has risen and will most likely continue to rise. Speculation regarding the rise in diagnosis ranges from an increase in awareness, better training and improved identification, as well as a broader spectrum of diagnoses and possible undetermined environmental, and genetic factors.


What is Autism?
Autism is a complicated neurological disorder that is diagnosed on a spectrum scale, which means there are varying degrees of severity. It involves impairments in multiple areas of development including social interaction, communication and cognitive functioning. Onset usually occurs in early childhood, so it is important for parents to be aware of possible Autistic symptoms.


Ranging from mild to severe, the effects differ from slight social disorders, to those who aren't able to speak at all. Many people with Autism have certain tendencies such as obsessions or tics. Fixations with anything ranging from a single word to environmental issues cause those with Autism to be extremely passionate individuals. Tics or some form of constant stimulation is common as well. Rocking and pacing are classic form of stimulation.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "Autism Spectrum Disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior." The ability to empathize with others and to give and receive affection can be extremely difficult for these individuals.


What causes Autism?
There is no known cause for Autism. Although, it is known that an Autistic brain differs from a non-autistic brain in several ways, including the way it's shaped. There are many theories regarding the underlying causes of Autism spectrum disorders, including hereditary links and questions regarding certain toxins that may have been ingested during pregnancy. Environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to certain chemicals have been under investigation. One of the most controversial theories is regarding MMR vaccinations given to children containing an ingredient called Thimerosal. Although the Center for Disease Control has found no substantial evidence in this theory, all pediatric clinics have been ordered to phase out vaccines with the ingredient.


Autism most often manifests itself in children before the age of three. Children often have delays in speech, motor skills, and social interaction. There are five main warning signs that parents can look for in their children, which may detect Autism. (This list does not cover all the warning signs of Autism):


1. Responsiveness to name calling. Babies as young as a few months will respond to a familiar voice, when they hear their name being called. Autistic children may respond to other noises at the same frequency and noise level, but often not their names. Many parents mistake this as hearing loss.

2. Joint attention. Children as young as one have the ability to focus on an object with their parent or caregiver. For instance, if a child sees a toy, he may point at the toy and then look up at his parent. Children with Autism may lack the ability to share interest with another individual. Often times, they may focus on an inanimate object for extended periods of time but never share their interest for the object with a parent or peer.

3. Imitation. Young infants are able to imitate facial expressions, such as a smile or a silly face. When they reach 8-10 months babies should be able to mimic some sounds as well. Babies with Autism might not mimic others and lack the interest in playful games like peek-a-boo.

4. Emotional responses. Infants are able to pick up on emotion at an early age. They will smile when someone is smiling, and sometimes cry when they hear or see someone crying. Also, some babies around the age of two will show empathy towards someone who is hurt or crying by moving towards the person in an attempt to comfort them. Children with Autism often do not respond to emotion. When someone is hurt and expressing distress a child with Autism is unlikely to show any emotion or concern.

5. Pretend Play. Feeding a baby doll, pretending a pot is a drum, or wearing mom's high heels is pretend play. Taking objects out of context, but using them in a similar manor is common among children age two. Autistic children may not be interested in toys and be apt to focus on objects like a piece of string or a spoon. When they do play with a toy, sometimes they don't play with it as intended. For instance, taking a toy car, flipping it upside down, and spinning the wheels over and over instead of driving it on the floor.


Autism has no racial, socioeconomic, or ethnic boundaries and is four times more common in boys than girls. Autism is also shown to run in families with a history of the disorder, however it hasn't been determined if it is indeed a hereditary disorder.


In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association included Autism and Aspergers Syndrome as diagnosable disorders, and listed them as Pervasive Developmental Disorders. This was the first time that these disorders were recognized by the organization. There are three types of the disorder on the spectrum scale; Autism, AS, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). All types of Autism include some sort of social impairment; however there is still speculation and debate regarding the differences, if any, between AS and Autism. Most clinicians maintain that those with Aspergers have normal speech function and IQ scores that can range from average to well above average.


For more information on Autism visit:
The Autism Society of Minnesota
Minnesota Autism Center
Autism Society of America



Categories: Children's Health, Health & Wellness,

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