What is autism?Autism is a complex developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication. Autism causes children to experience the world differently from the way most other children do. It is hard for children with autism to talk with other people and express themselves using words. Children who have autism usually keep to themselves and many can’t communicate without special help.
They may also react to what is going on around them in unusual ways. Normal sounds may really bother someone with autism – so much so that they may cover his or her ears. Being touched, even in a gentle way, may feel uncomfortable.
Children with autism often can not make connections that other kids make easily. For example, when someone smiles, you know the smiling person is happy or being friendly. But a child with autism may have trouble connecting that smile with the person’s happy feelings.
A child who has autism may also have trouble linking words to their meanings. Imagine trying to understand what your mom is saying if you didn’t know what her words really mean. It is twice as frustrating if the child can not come up with the right words to express his or her own thoughts.
Autism causes children to act in abnormal ways. They might flap their hands, say certain words over and over, have temper tantrums, or play only with one particular toy. Most children with autism do not like changes in routines. They like to stay on a schedule that is always the same. They also may insist that their toys or other objects be arranged a certain way and get upset if these items are moved or disturbed.
If someone has autism, his or her brain has trouble with an important job: making sense of the world. Every day, your brain interprets the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations that you experience. If your brain could not help you understand these things, you would have trouble functioning, talking, going to school, and doing other everyday stuff.
What causes autism?Autism has no single definite cause. This disorder seems to be related to abnormalities in several regions of the brain. Researchers have identified a number of gene defects associated with autism.
Autism affects about 1 in every 150 children. Knowing the exact cause is hard because the human brain is very complicated. For some reason some of the cells and connections in the brain of a child with autism do not develop properly or get damaged. Scientists are still trying to understand how and why this happens.
Families with one autistic child have a one in 20 chance of having a second child with this disorder. In some cases, relatives of autistic children show mild impairments in social and communication skills or engage on repetitive behaviors.
Children with symptoms of autism have a higher than normal risk of also having:· Fragile X syndrome, which causes mental retardation· Tuberous Sclerosis, in which tumors grow in the brain· Tourette’s Syndrome· Epileptic seizuresFor reasons still unclear, about 20 to 30 percent of children with autism develop epilepsy by the time they reach adulthood.
What are signs and symptoms of autism?In general, children with autism have problems in three crucial areas of development – social skills, language and behavior. The most severe autism is marked by a complete inability to communicate or interact with other people.
Because the symptoms of autism vary widely, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have strikingly different skills.
If your child has autism, he or she may develop normally for the first few months – or years – of life and then later become less responsive to other people, including you. You may recognize the following signs in the areas of social skills, language and behavior:Social skills· Fails to respond to his or her name· Has poor eye contact· Appears not to hear you at times· Resists cuddling and holding· Appears unaware of others feelings· Often lacks empathy· Seems to prefer playing alone – retreats into his or her “own world”Language· Starts talking later than other children· Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences· Does not make eye contact when making requests· Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm – may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech· Can not start a conversation or keep one going·
May repeat words or phrases verbatim, but does not understand how to use themBehavior· Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping· Develops specific routines or rituals· Becomes disturbed at the slightest change in routines or rituals· Moves constantly· May be fascinated by parts of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car· May be unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch· May refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me.”Young children with autism also have a hard time sharing experiences with others. For example, when someone reads to them, they are unlikely to point at pictures in the book. This early-developing social skill is vital to later language and social development.
These children have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation. These unusual reactions may contribute to behavioral symptoms such as a resistance to being cuddled or hugged.
Do symptoms of Autism change over time?For many children, autism symptoms improve with treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives. Children, whose language skills regress early in life, usually before the age of 3, show to be at risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. During adolescence, some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioral problems. Parents of these children should be ready to adjust treatment for their child as needed.
How is autism treated?There are many different treatments for Autism. Once you find out your child is Autistic you will then want to begin some type of treatment plan. Many worry that they will have to use medications that can be dangerous to their child. This is not the case.
While some children need medication not all children do. There are a lot of other treatments available to the Autistic child besides prescription medication. Some people will go with the standard type of treatment plan, while others will try a natural plan. Some different types of treatment for Autism:Occupational TherapyOccupational therapy helps to teach the Autistic child to be independent. They learn daily skills they need like dressing, or taking a bath. They will work on fine motor skills. They also teach the child to use any devices they may have to help them function in daily life. They will be taught safety measures. This could be safety when outside, or dangers in the house.
MedicationThere are many types of medications used in treating Autism. These medications can be for different problems associated with Autism. Some are used to help with anxiety that is often found in Autistic children. Autistic children sometimes have problems with falling asleep. Medication can be used to help with this. Antipsychotic drugs are often used in children dealing with behavioral problems. These medications will not cure the Autism. Medications can have terrible side effects. The child needs to be monitored closely while on any medication.
Behavioral Therapy· Behavioral therapy will concentrate on teaching the Autistic child appropriate behaviors. Usually this will include some form of a reward system. They are taught how to act in social settings. This therapy is often done in the child’s home setting. The parents are taught ways to deal with the child’s unwanted behaviors. Usually an Autistic child will learn they will be rewarded for good behaviors, and they will stop some of the bad behavior.
Physical Therapy· Many Autistic children require physical therapy. This type of therapy can help children with low muscle tone. They also work with young children on basic motor skills. This can include walking, standing, and rolling. Many Autistic children can have other health problems. These problems can benefit from physical therapy too.
Speech Therapy· Autistic children often have a hard time communicating. They have problems understanding non verbal cues. Some Autistic children do not speak at all, so they have to be taught ways to communicate with others. Children with Autism need to be taught about body language. Some children with Autism that do not speak are taught to communicate by signing, or with the use of pictures. The speech therapist will work on getting a non verbal child to speak.
The most important factor is to find a treatment plan that works for your child. With proper treatment your Autistic child can thrive. Finally these are just a few of the many treatments available to a child with Autism. Not all children will require all of the treatments.
When to seek medical advice:Babies develop at their own pace, and many do not follow exact timelines found in some parenting books. But children with autism usually show some signs of delayed development by 18 months. If you suspect that your child may have autism, talk about your concerns with your doctor. The earlier treatment begins the more effective it will be.
Your doctor may recommend further evaluation if your child:· Doesn’t babble or coo by 12 months· Doesn’t gesture – such as point or wave – by 12 months· Doesn’t say single words by 16 months· Doesn’t say two-word phrases by 24 months· Loses previously acquired language or social skills at any ageWhat population is affected?Current records show that autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups equally, with individuals in one group no more or less likely than those in other groups. Three groups are at higher-than-normal risk s including:· Boys. Statistics show that boys are three to four times more likely to be affected by autism than girls are.
· Siblings of those with autism. With families that have one child with an autism, the recurrence of autism in another sibling is between 2 percent and 8 percent, a figure much higher than in the general population.
· People with certain other developmental disorders. For certain a disorder, including Fragile X syndrome, mental retardation, and tuberous sclerosis,
autism is common in addition to the primary symptoms of the disorder.
Guidelines used by the Autism Society of America include the following questions parents can ask about potential treatments:· Will the treatment result in harm to my child?· How will failure of the treatment affect my child and family?· Has the treatment been validated scientifically?· Are there assessment procedures specified?· How will the treatment be integrated into my child’s current program? Do not become so infatuated with a given treatment that functional curriculum, vocational life, and social skills are ignored.
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests a list of questions parents can ask when planning for their child:· How successful has the program been for other children?· How many children have gone on to placement in a regular school and how have they performed?· Do staff members have training and experience in working with children and adolescents with autism?· How are activities planned and organized?· Are there predictable daily schedules and routines?· How much individual attention will my child receive?·
How is progress measured? Will my child’s behavior be closely observed and recorded?· Will my child be given tasks and rewards that are personally motivating?· Is the environment designed to minimize distractions?· Will the program prepare me to continue the therapy at home?· What is the cost, time commitment, and location of the program?Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder:Some adults with autism are able to work successfully in normal jobs. Nevertheless, communication and social problems often cause difficulties in many areas of life. They will continue to need encouragement and moral support in their struggle for an independent life.
Many others with autism are capable of employment in sheltered workshops under the supervision of managers trained in working with people with disabilities. A nurturing environment at home, at school, and later in a job training and at work, helps people with autism continue to learn and to develop throughout their lives.
The public schools responsibility for providing services ends when the person with autism reaches the age of 22. The family is then faced with the challenge of finding living arrangements and employment to match the particular needs of their adult child, as well as the programs and facilities that can provide support services to achieve these goals. Long before your child finishes school, you will want to search for the best programs and facilities for your young adult. If you know other parents of autistic adults, ask them about the services available in your community. If your community has little to offer, serve as an advocate for your child and work toward the goal of improved employment services.
Living Arrangements for the Adult with an Autism Spectrum Disorder:Independent living- Some adults with autism are able to live entirely on their own. Others can live semi-independently in their own home or apartment if they have assistance with solving major problems, such as personal finances or dealing with the government agencies that provide services to people with disabilities. This assistance can be provided by family, a professional agency, or another type of provider.
Living at home- Government funds are available for families that choose to have their adult child with autism live at home. These programs include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicaid waivers, and others. Information about these programs are available from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Foster homes and skill-development homes- Some families open their homes to provide long-term care to unrelated adults with disabilities. If the home teaches self-care and housekeeping skills and arranges leisure activities, it is called a “skill-development” home.
Supervised group living- People with disabilities frequently live in group homes or apartments staffed by professionals who help the individuals with basic needs. They often include meal preparation, housekeeping, and personal care needs. Higher functioning persons may be able to live in a home or apartment where the staff only visit a few times a week. These people generally prepare their own meals, go to work, and conduct other daily activities on their own.
Institutions- Although the trend in recent decades has been to avoid placing people with disabilities into long-term-care institutions, this alternative is still available for people with autism who need constant supervision. Unlike many of the institutions years ago, today’s facilities view residents as individuals with human needs and offer recreation for simple but meaningful work.
Local and state foundations designed for the assistance for parents of an autistic child:Places for available for care and treatment:Anderson Center for Autism4885 Route 9PO Box 367Staatsburg NY 12580-0367T 845-889-4034F 845-889-3104Medical specialty foundations that deal with autism:Where can I get more information?For more information on neurological disorders or research programs funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, contact the Institute’s Brain Resources and Information Network (BRAIN) at:BRAINP.O. Box 5801Bethesda, MD 20824(800) 352-9424http://www.ninds.nih.govAssociation for Science in Autism Treatment Autism National Committee (AUTCOM)P.O. Box 188 P.O. Box 429Crosswicks, NJ 08515-0188 Forest Knolls, CA [email protected] http://www.autcom.orghttp://www.asatonline.orgTel: 781-397-8943 Autism Research Institute (ARI)Fax: 781-397-8887 4182 Adams AvenueSan Diego, CA 92116Autism Network International (ANI) [email protected] Box 35448 http://www.autismresearchinstitute.comSyracuse, NY 13235-5448 Tel: [email protected] Fax: 619-563-6840http://ani.autistics.orgMAAP Services for Autism, Asperger’s, and PDDAutism Society of America P.O. Box 5247910 Woodmont Ave. Crown Point, IN 46308Suite 300 [email protected], MD 20814-3067 http://www.maapservices.orghttp://www.autism-society.org Tel: 219-662-1311Tel: 301-657-0881 800-3AUTISM (328-8476) Fax: 219-662-0638Fax: 301-657-0869Autism Speaks, Inc. National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities2 Park Avenue U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education Programs11th Floor P.O. Box 1492New York, NY 10016 Washington, DC [email protected] [email protected]://www.autismspeaks.org http://www.nichcy.orgTel:
212-252-8584 Tel: 800-695-0285Fax: 212-252-8676 Fax: 202-884-8441National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)National Institutes of Health, DHHS31 Center Drive, Rm. 2A32 MSC 2425Bethesda, MD 20892-2425http://www.nichd.nih.govTel: 301-496-5133Fax: 301-496-7101National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Information Clearinghouse1 Communication AvenueBethesda, MD [email protected]://www.nidcd.nih.govTel: 800-241-1044 800-241-1055 (TTD/TTY)National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)National Institutes of Health, DHHS6001 Executive Blvd. Rm. 8184, MSC 9663Bethesda, MD [email protected]://www.nimh.nih.govTel: 301-443-4513/866-615-NIMH (-6464) 301-443-8431 (TTY)Fax: 301-443-4279work cited:Maureen Aarons & Tessa Gittens.
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