Author Topic: Autism  (Read 2098 times)

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« on: February 29, 2008, 03:11:38 PM »

Written by Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN

 Autism is a condition that affects development of the brain. Autism severely affects a person's social, mental, emotional, and communications skills.

What is going on in the body?
Autism is the most severe form of a spectrum of pervasive developmental disorders, which affect a person's ability to interact with others. The hallmark signs of autism are extreme difficulty in responding to social interactions and communicating with others. Autism is most often noticed before the age of 3. It occurs four times more often in boys than in girls. It seems to appear equally among all parts of society. Although estimates of the frequency of autism in the population vary depending on how strict a definition is used, autism has clearly been increasing and may now affect as many as 3 to 6 per 1,000 children. Some people who have autism may also have other disorders that affect the brain. These include:
• epilepsy
• Down syndrome
• fragile X syndrome
• Turner syndrome

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
A person with autism may have many symptoms, any of which can vary in degree from mild to so severe that they affect every part of a person's life. Not every symptom is seen in each person who has autism. The symptoms include:
• Difficulty communicating. Spoken language usually develops slowly or not at all. Words are often used in the wrong way. A person with autism may use gestures more than words. He or she may also tend to repeat words or phrases. A person who has autism may have a short attention span.
• Difficulty in social interaction. A person with autism often has little interest in interacting with others. He or she may not smile in response to others or make eye contact . A person who has autism often spends a lot of time alone and makes little effort to form friendships.
• Senses that are lessened or more intense. Some persons with autism have little response to any of the five senses. Others may have heightened senses. For example, when an autistic person hears a loud noise, he or she may cover his or her ears for a long time. An infant or child with autism may avoid hugging or any kind of touching.
• Difficulty in play. A child who has autism may lack interest in playing with others. He or she may not be able to engage in imaginative play.
• Extremes in behavior. People who have autism may be overactive or extremely passive. They may go from one extreme to the other. Some may show an obsessive interest in a single item, idea, or activity. They may use repeated body movements. Examples are flapping arms, rocking back and forth, or head banging. People who have autism may lack common sense, and they may be aggressive with themselves or others.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Experts now believe that genetic factors are responsible for autism, though the responsible genes are still being identified and the mechanism of causation of autism is still not understood. It is known is that none of the following can cause autism.
• bad parenting
• mental illness
• a child's naughty behavior
Psychological factors have also not been found to contribute to autism. Some cases of autism have been associated with trauma, disease, or structural abnormalities before or during birth. These include:
• encephalitis or other serious infections affecting the brain as an infant
• lack of oxygen during birth
• the mother having rubella, formerly called German measles, while she was pregnant
• untreated phenylketonuria, a genetic problem in the body's ability to handle certain chemicals named phenylketones
A considerable body of research has also shown that autism is not linked to childhood immunizations.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
Not enough is known yet about the cause of autism to prevent it. Early recognition and treatment may decrease the effects of autism.

How is the condition diagnosed?
A team of healthcare professionals should evaluate the person with symptoms of autism. The team may include:
• a physician with training in child development
• a psychologist
• a neurologist
• a speech therapist
• a learning consultant
Diagnosis begins with a medical history and physical exam. Further testing is then needed to identify other possible causes of the symptoms. These may include blood tests, cranial CT scans, cranial MRI scans, and electroencephalograms (EEGs).
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