Friday, May 29, 2009

Health Care and Autism

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), autism (sometimes called “classical autism”) is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. Other ASDs include Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism. Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.

According to, autism is a brain disorder that often makes it hard to communicate with and relate to others. With autism, the different areas of the brain fail to work together. Most people with autism will always have some trouble relating to others. But early diagnosis and treatment have helped more and more people with autism to live independently as adults. Autism tends to run in families, so experts think it may be something that you inherit. Scientists are trying to find out exactly which genes may be responsible for passing down autism in families. Other studies are looking at whether autism can be caused by other medical problems or by something in your child’s surroundings. Some people think that childhood vaccines cause autism, especially the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine. But studies have not shown this to be true. It’s important to make sure that your child gets all childhood vaccines. They help keep your child from getting serious diseases that can cause harm or even death.

Symptoms almost always start before a child is 3 years old, according to But usually, parents first notice that their toddler has not started talking yet and is not acting like other children the same age. Symptoms of autism include:
--A delay in learning to talk, or not talking at all. A child may seem to be deaf, even though hearing tests are normal.
--Repeated and overused types of behavior, interests, and play. Examples include repeated body rocking, unusual attachments to objects, and getting very upset when routines change.

According to, there is no "typical" person with autism. People can have many different kinds of behaviors, from mild to severe. Parents often say that their child with autism prefers to play alone and does not make eye contact with other people. Autism may also include other problems:
--Many children have below-normal intelligence.
--Teenagers often become depressed and have a lot of anxiety, especially if they have average or above-average intelligence.
--Some children get a seizure disorder such as epilepsy by their teen years.

There are guidelines your doctor will use to see if your child has symptoms of autism, according to The guidelines put symptoms into three categories:
--Social interactions and relationships. For example, a child may have trouble making eye contact. People with autism may have a hard time understanding someone else’s feelings, such as pain or sadness.
--Verbal and nonverbal communication. For example, a child may never speak. Or he or she may often repeat a certain phrase over and over.
--Limited interests in activities or play. For example, younger children often focus on parts of toys rather than playing with the whole toy. Older children and adults may be fascinated by certain topics, like train schedules or license plates.
Also, your child may also have a hearing test and some other tests to make sure that problems are not caused by some other condition.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), children with autism might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may have to line up their pencils before they can pay attention, or they may say the same sentence again and again to calm themselves down. They may flap their arms to tell you they are happy, or they might hurt themselves to tell you they are not. Some people with autism never learn how to talk. The cause of autism is not known. Autism lasts throughout a person's lifetime. There is no cure, but treatment can help. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies and medicines to control symptoms.

Treatment for autism involves special behavioral training, according to And, behavioral training rewards good behavior (positive reinforcement) to teach children social skills and to teach them how to communicate and how to help themselves as they grow older. With early treatment, most children with autism learn to relate better to others. They learn to communicate and to help themselves as they grow older. Depending on the child, treatment may also include such things as speech therapy or physical therapy. Medicine is sometimes used to treat problems such as depression or obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Exactly what type of treatment your child needs depends on the symptoms, which are different for each child and may change over time. Because people with autism are so different, something that helps one person may not help another. So it’s important to work with everyone involved in your child’s education and care to find the best way to manage symptoms.

According to, an important part of your child's treatment plan is making sure that other family members get training about autism and how to manage symptoms. Training can reduce family stress and help your child function better. Some families need more help than others. Take advantage of every kind of help you can find. Talk to your doctor about what help is available where you live. Family, friends, public agencies, and autism organizations are all possible resources. Remember these tips: Plan breaks. Daily demands of caring for a child with autism can take their toll. Planned breaks will help the whole family. Get extra help when your child gets older. The teen years can be a very hard time for children with autism. Get in touch with other families who have children with autism. You can talk about your problems and share advice with people who will understand. Raising a child with autism is hard work. But with support and training, your family can learn how to cope.

According to, as your child enters his adolescent years, expect him to find this time period challenging, if not downright difficult. After all, even kids who aren't on the spectrum are daunted by the formidable transition between childhood and adulthood, and it's even trickier for those who are autistic. Autistic teens are befuddled by physical and hormonal changes in their bodies, by developing social circles and by increasing contact with the world at large. They are also wrestling with complicated emotions. As a result, they may appear to regress, acting out and exhibiting behaviors, such as hitting or rocking, they may have conquered long ago. Your child may lean on you more as he navigates the years ahead so prepare for the rollercoaster of emotions on which he may soon embark. Let him know that you're there to guide him through any situation he may find uncomfortable. Ask the opinions of his teachers, who will help him master new skills so he'll be better equipped to interact with his peers and take on bigger responsibilities. With ample support and encouragement, your child stands a good chance of overcoming the initial pressures and in time, he'll learn how to adjust to his shifting landscape.

Once your child is an adult, his options will depend on how high functioning he is, according to When he, or she, has “aged out” of public school, a vocational training program may be the next best step. Depending on his capabilities, he may excel at jobs that require enormous amounts of concentration but limited intense interaction with others, such as computer programming or graphic design. Or, he may prefer to do something more repetitive, such as filing. If he's academically rigorous, college may be the answer. In short, he or she is only truly limited by his or her own abilities and interests, which holds true whether one is autistic or not. Your child will likely be able to live independently, earning a living and taking care of their needs. That said, social relationships may always be minefields, and as such, will continue to be a source of frustration and, for some, despair. With this in mind, it may be beneficial to have a therapist or counselor familiar with the condition be available to help your child as he ages and encounters increasingly complex relationships that give way to equally complex emotions and situations.

Autism is a challenging and complicated disease. It provides opportunity for difficulties to be overcome, and rewards for positive development with the person who suffers from it. Caregivers must learn as much as possible to assist the relative or individual afflicted with autism. Support is available through a variety of resources devoted to the education of and assistance for those caring for Americans who are autistic. If you know someone with autism, be more open minded to their needs. Learn how to deal with those who have it, and be sensitive to those who must care for people with autism.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

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