What is autism? Information on autism symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment.
Autism; is a severe mental disorder that starts in infancy or early childhood and severely impairs the victim’s ability to adapt to his environment and relate to other people. It is a rare disorder that affects only about five children per 10,000 births, including three times as many boys as girls. There are several varieties of autism, the most distinctive of which is early infantile autism, or Kanner’s syndrome. Most doctors use the terms autism, childhood schizophrenia, and childhood psychosis interchangeably with each other.
The word autistic, which means self-involved, is applied to children afflicted with this disorder because their facial expressions and unresponsiveness make them resemble day-dreaming, completely self-involved adults. The autistic child is more interested in inanimate objects than in persons or other living things and often follows rigid patterns of repeated and sometimes bizarre behavior. Autistic children are usually physically attractive, and many (especially those with early infantile autism) are graceful and dexterous. The children show little comprehension of language. Half of them are mute, while the others speak with peculiar and highly characteristic mannerisms and with little meaning.
The disorder generally is present at birth, but it cannot be diagnosed reliably until the second year. In some cases the child seems normal until about age 2,5 but onset of the disorder after age 3 is rare.
Because the autistic child seems oblivious to those around him, his parents at first suspect that he is deaf. After hearing tests rule out deafness, mental retardation is next suspected. Autism is usually diagnosed when other factors, such as unusual skill with puzzles and music, rule out simple retardation.
The once widely held theory that autism is merely a psychological or emotional disturbance has been largely abandoned. Most authorities now agree that the symptoms stem from an as yet poorly understood metabolic or neurological malfunction. In some cases autism appears to be related to a failure of cells to bind serotonin, a chemical that plays an important role in transmission of nerve impulses.
Prognosis and Treatment:
Many autistic children improve, and a few recover, some becoming gifted adults. Psychotherapy has not been found valuable as a treatment, but some children have been helped by a structured, directive educational approach in which the child’s appropriate responses are rewarded. Heavy doses of certain B vitamins may be of value.
***This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a doctor warning or recommendation.