Whether contracted in the early fetal development stage or inherited, autism is a disorder which affects cognitive brain functions thus impeding a person’s ability to communicate effectively. The disorder distorts not only how people perceive sensory information but how the brain processes it as well.
Autism and other neurological disorders are defined by characteristics of behavior and are commonly considered to be biological in origin and not caused by improper parenting or by varying social situations a young child may have experienced. The precise fundamental neurological causes have not been identified but remain the source of the condition. Though differing theories have been postulated, none have stood up to intense scientific scrutiny and analysis. Many variables are present when attempting to specifically define the source although autism unquestionably does not originate from how a child is nurtured, it is a genetic disorder. Because of many possible causes and varying severities of the disorder, there is no one definitive type of treatment Autism is the most prevalent developmental disorder affecting one in every 166 children (“How Common?”, 2006). Symptoms of the disorder can be generally described as the incapability to adequately interact socially along with a disinterested demeanor. It is an abnormality in the structure of the brain caused by genetic predispositions or from damage occurring during the development phase (Bryson & Smith, 1998). Children afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome, those infected with rubella while in the womb and those whose mother took drugs known to cause damage to the fetus show symptoms of autism to a greater degree than is typical. “Although the reported association between autism and obstetrical hazard may be due to genetic factors there is evidence that several different causes of toxic or infectious damage to the central nervous system during early development also may contribute to autism” (Williams & Hersh, 1997). There is overwhelming evidence, however, for a genetic influence. Autism is very much an inherited disorder. The identical twin is more likely to have autism if their twin has it but fraternal twins have no more of a predisposition to contract the disorder than would the general public. If an identical twin is autistic, the other twin also will be in nine out of 10 cases. If a sibling has it, their brothers and sisters are 35 times more likely to have it than the average (Cook, 1998).
Symptoms of autism are generally noticeable to the trained eye before a child’s third birthday but the disorder usually remains undiagnosed until or after that age. The severity of autism varies widely among individuals as does its related symptoms but there are certain aspects relating to social interaction shared by all with the disorder. Avoiding direct eye contact, distinctive body posturing and facial expressions as well as other nonverbal communication deficiencies are a common trait. Autistic children seldom associate with those of their own age-group as well as showing a general disinterest in interacting with any other people. They also do not demonstrate empathy because they lack the understanding of another person’s sorrow or pain. Deficiencies in communication skills can include symptoms such as a delay in speaking development or not being able to speak at all. About half of those with autism never learn to talk. Of those that do, most have great difficulty focusing and staying within the subject parameters of a conversation. Habitual repetitiveness of words or phrases is a common trait as is the lack of understanding satire or an implied, underlying meaning. A lack of interest in play or other activities is common as is being fixated on a single item. The compulsion for routine such as insisting that they always eat the meat portion of a meal before the salad and must be driven along the same route illustrate this need for sameness and routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same roads to school. Lastly is the well-recognized rocking back and forth behavior commonly observed in those with autism (Volkmar, 2000).
The most important factor in the treatment of autistic children and ensuring they reach their optimum potential is identifying the developmental disorder as early as possible. The behaviors and symptoms of autism are many, varied and are capable of intertwining in a countless number of ways including different levels of severity. Additionally, an individual’s behaviors and symptoms frequently change with time. Autistic children are most responsive to treatment that is specialized, amply structured and custom tailored to suit the individual’s needs. Treatment programs that focus on assisting parents in improving behavioral, social, adaptive and communicative skills collectively in a positive, customized learning environment will ensure that the autistic child will be able to make the most out of their life. (“Autism Disorder”, 2000).
Though autism is incurable and usually results in social isolation to varying degrees, various forms of treatment have proven to make a decidedly positive impact in the way autistics interact with others. Unfortunately, parents, as a rule, do not have major concerns or seek assistance for their child until obvious signs of deficiencies regarding speech and response patterns are demonstrated compared to others of similar age. This can occur as late as pre-school or kindergarten years. The age at which autism is diagnosed and the degree of comprehensive treatment received are the determining factors in that person’s ability to ultimately function as an independent adult.
Bryson, S. E. & Smith, I. M. “Epidemiology of Autism: Prevalence, Associated Characteristics, and Service Delivery.” Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews. Vol. 4. pp. 97–103. (1998).
Cook, E. H., Jr. “Genetics of Autism.” Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews. Vol. 4. pp. 113–120. (1998).
“How Common are Autism Spectrum Disorders?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006). Web.
Volkmar FR & Klin A. “Pervasive Developmental Disorders.” Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry. BJ Sadock, VA Sadock, (Eds.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Williams, Vol. 2. pp. 2659–2678. (2000).
Williams, P. G. & Hersh, J. H. “A Male with Fetal Valproate Syndrome and Autism.” Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. Vol. 39. pp. 632–634. (1997).