Autism is a neurobehavioral disorder and one among the many developmental conditions grouped together and known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It was estimated several years back that an average of one in 110 children in the U.S alone suffer from ASD (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Report Title: Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders --- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2006; Corresponding author: Catherine Rice, PhD, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities; URL: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5810a1.htm), but the statistics today are at one in 58 for boys and one in 91 for girls (Source: Report Title: Latest Autism Statistics. News--Medical Watch on WGNTV.com. URL: http://www.wgntv.com/news/medicalwatch/wgntv-autism-numbers-oct5,0,2441399.story ). It has been observed that male children are more prone to be afflicted with ASD conditions than their female counterparts.
Here is a brief on some of the symptoms that are visible in children suffering from autistic disorders. They may exhibit some or a combination of these signs:
1. Diminished response rates to stimuli in a social set up or surroundings.
2. Low levels of interaction with children their own age.
3. Children afflicted with ASD may smile less and respond fewer times to their names being called and/or make little eye contact.
4. Such children may also have lower face recognition though they are strongly attached to their primary caregivers.
5. They may have language and speech development delays.
6. ASD children may not respond corresponding to the question being asked to them or topic being talked about.
7. They may prefer to be alone and may resist affectionate body touch.
8. The ASD child may demonstrate unusual and occasionally compulsive behaviors.
9. They may have a narrow but consumed interest in a thing or two.
10. Repetitive patterns of behavior such as stacking things in order, rocking back and forth or moving around in circles often.
11. ASD children often exhibit poor muscle tone and motor abilities.
12. Unusual eating behaviors including eating rituals not leading to malnutrition but possibly causing some gastrointestinal conditions.
13. The ASD afflicted child may be oversensitive to noises and may show a need for rhythmic movement and yet stumble into objects.
14. The child may have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about his or her own feelings.
15. May exhibit unusual responses to smell, tastes, sounds, etc.
Causal factors are yet not completely known but more research is pointing at:
• Genetic variations*
• Drugs during pregnancy
• Environmental pollution
• Social factors
• Viral infections
all which together may culminate into making of the autistic child.
*You may read the HerArticle entitled "New Findings in Autism" to learn more about the genetic factors.
A diagnosis for autism is made if the child exhibits six or more symptoms (some of which have been listed in this article), from a list given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV- TR) in the categories of social, communicational and behavioral symptoms, by the age of three. For these six symptoms to qualify as autism, there should be the presence of:
• At least two symptoms of qualitative impairment in social interaction
• At least one symptom of qualitative impairment in communication
• At least one symptom of restricted and repetitive behavior
Management for children with autism spectrum disorder revolves around the many techniques available through psychological intervention, nutrition (diet free of gluten, casein and yeast; diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamins B6 and B12 ), and creative therapy (like art and music therapy) that also facilitate the development of social and vocational skills. All these therapies are aimed at improving the quality of life of both the affected child and his primary caregivers.
Medications for ASD children depend on case-to-case assessments and are usually recommended only after the desired response is not achieved from psychological and behavioral therapies. The doctor may prescribe any or a combination of any of:
1. Anti-depressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac have been approved to treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety in ASD children who are 7 years of age or younger. This class of medication comes with its side-effects from medium-long term usage and must be monitored closely both by the doctor and the primary caregiver of the ASD child.
2. Stimulants are also prescribed at times. Methylphenidate*, Dextroamphetamine-amphetamine, and Dextroamphetamine are favored over other stimulants. In general they address the symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsive behavior in children by bringing chemical balance in the neurotransmitters of their brain.
*It should be noted that Methylphenidate is a controversial, highly controlled and scheduled medication (in the U.S., U.K., and NZ) and its possession by any person without prescription for ADHD or similar conditions is considered criminal and punishable by law.
3. Benzodiazepines may be given to manage the behavioral aspect of the ASD child. Anti-psychotics such as haloperidol, thioridazine, fluphenazine, and chlorpromazine also prove effective in managing behavioral anomalies in the autistic child as do risperidone, paliperidone, olanzapine, ziprasidone, and clozapine.
Between 3 and 25 percent of autistic children recover completely after intensive treatment (Source: Helt M, Kelley E, Kinsbourne M et al. Report Title: ‘Can children with autism recover? If so, how?’ Neuropsychol Rev. 2008;18(4):339–66. doi:10.1007/s11065-008-9075-9. PMID 19009353). Those who do not benefit from any of the treatment options can mature into adulthood showing fewer of the symptoms they did as children though the core issues still remain with them. Still, autism affects most areas of the person's life such as the ability to complete an education, get a job, marry, drive, take care of his or her own health, lead a safe lifestyle, hold onto successful friendship and other social relationships.
Living with an autistic child is stressful and has its challenges. Yet the primary caregiver needs to be patient and has to understand the very special needs of his/her child. It is thus essential that when you have a child diagnosed with ASD that you support him/her through this very challenging situation:
• Always keep in mind to show a lot of love and acceptance to the child.
• It is important that you remain calm and try to be patient with the child.
• It is necessary to keep your expectations in check, especially if his/her sibling is a typical child.
• You can help by maintain a regular schedule for your child, with regular hours for meals, play, work and rest.
• Take care of your own needs too, as this is a long battle and will take getting used to.
• Give yourself and the child a break and go out to enjoy yourselves.
• Talk to the teachers and doctors to keep everybody in the loop.
• Join a support group of parents with similar children and find out what they are doing.
INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. ALL INFORMATION GIVEN IS TO BE CHECKED WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE IMPLEMENTING OR TAKING THEM AS STANDARD OR VERIFIED.
Mamta Singh is a published author of the books Migraines for the Informed Woman (Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2), the upcoming Rev Up Your Life! (Publisher: Hay House India) and Mentor Your Mind (Publisher: Sterling Publishers). She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer & sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites. She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health. Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation.