Thursday, April 14, 2011

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders–Part 1
By Hevin Kurdi - Canada

Autism emerges in the first three years of a child’s life and can affect the ability to communicate, understand language and develop social relationships.

The symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) vary, ranging from mild to severe, but all children on the spectrum show difficulties with:

· Social Interaction

· Verbal and nonverbal communication

· Repetitive behaviours or limited interests

Though some people refer to all ASDs simply as ‘autism,’ doctors usually diagnose patients with a specific classification from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR). The five subcategories of diagnoses are:

· Autistic disorder

· Asperger disorder

· Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD)

· Rett disorder

· Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

Characteristics of ASD
No two children with ASD are alike. Some may never develop language or may suffer from severe problems, such as mental retardation or seizures. Those on the mild end of the spectrum, on the other hand, may be able to function in a regular classroom and, with intervention, may even completely overcome the challenges associated with the disability.

Children on the autism spectrum sometimes avoid eye contact, ignore others, speak little and lose language or social skills they once had. They may also exhibit self-stimulatory behaviours, such as flapping their hands repetitively, or focus on one activity with little interest in anything else, for example fixating on the wheels of a toy car for hours.

Incidence & diagnosis

ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic and social groups and is four times more likely to affect boys than girls. There is no medical test for ASD. A diagnosis is made by observing the presence or absence of specific age-related behaviours and skills. For instance, does a 3-year-old child communicate using short phrases like “want more juice” or is he uncommunicative? Does he like playing with friends or does he prefer to play alone? ASD can usually be diagnosed by the time a child is three years old and can sometimes be detected as early as 12 months of age.

Parents are often the first to notice something is “different” about their child and may worry their child is not reaching developmental milestones. Maybe their infant doesn’t cry when they leave the room or is overly anxious around strangers. Some children seem to develop normally at first; then, around 12 to 36 months, they will suddenly lose the ability to speak or point or will show other drastic changes in behaviour.

There is no single cause for ASD, but significant strides have been made in its understanding and treatment in recent years. Intensive early intervention can significantly reduce the impact of autism and can dramatically help children to learn, grow and enjoy happy, fulfilling lives.

In next month’s issue, we will continue our discussion of ASD with useful teaching tips and behaviour control tips.