A Case StudyFred's parents were concerned. Fred was two and a half years old, but wasnot beginning to talk. He didn't babble like other children his age. Freddid not make eye contact, but his vision seemed fine. He loved watchinghis own hands. He could sit for hours watching his hands move back and forth.
Fred was diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder that disruptsnormal development. Some children with autism can attend school withchildren their own age; others must receive specialcare.
|Symptoms of Autism|
Most autistic people enjoy repetitive motions, such as spinning objects,running water, or sniffing objects. A sense of routine is very important,and it can be extremely upsetting to them when part of their routine ischanged. This could be something as trivial as changing the route to thegrocery store or moving an item within the house.
Autistic people havetrouble interpreting other people's facial expressions. Most of the timethey will not make eye contact with others and have trouble makingfriends. Some people with autism are hypersensitive to sound and get veryupset when they hear sirens or dogs barking. Others are fascinated withfaint noises such as the ticking of a watch. To some, bright lights aredistressing, while others will stare at bright lights for hours. Manyautistic people can not stand light touch: scratchy clothing could beunbearable. Others seem immune to pain and may hurt themselves. Moodswings are common.
TheCause of Autism is UnknownIt was once thought that poor parenting caused autism. This is definitelynot true. Although the cause of autism is unclear, it is known thatgenetics do play a role. The disorder is seen often in identical twins:different studies have shown that if one twin has autism then there is a63-98% chance that the other twin will have it. For non-identical twins(also called fraternal or dizygotic twins), the chance is between 0-10%that both twins will develop autism. The chance that siblings will beaffected by autism is about 3%.
Autism appears to be associated with other chromosomal abnormalities, suchas Fragile X syndrome or brain abnormalities such as congenital rubellasyndrome. A large number of people with these disorders are alsodiagnosed with autism. Furthermore, complicated births, such as difficultpregnancies, labor, or delivery may to contribute to the occurrence of thedisorder.
DiagnosisAutism is a behaviorally defined syndrome. Thereis no one test for it. Usually parents notice that their child is notdeveloping in the same way as other children the same age. A physician canperform a psychiatric exam, ruling out other disorders such asschizophrenia, selective mutism (when the child chooses not to speak butcan speak if he wanted to), or mental retardation, to name a few.Other tests examine language skills. When all of the test results areexamined, a physician can make a diagnosis.
TreatmentAutism is a lifelong disorder, although symptoms inchildren may lessen with age. The majority of people with autism willremain in institutionalized care and approximately 50% will remain withoutthe ability to speak. Structured programs that do not allow the child to"tune out" have proved successful at helping many children gain languageand some social skills. Many times autistic children will have otherdisorders, such as epilepsy (seizures), hyperactivity, and attentionproblems. Epilepsy, in particular, appears to get worse as autisticchildren get older.
Drugs that inhibit the reuptake of the neurotransmitter called serotoninhave some success in treating autistic patients. These drugs, such asFluxoetine, slow the reuptake of serotonin by theneuron that released it. Therefore, serotonin will stay in the synapsefor a longer time.
A Look at the Brain of an Autistic Person
Quick Facts About Autism
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Prepared by Ellen Y. Kuwana
Neuroscience for Kids Staff Writer