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Understanding a mysterious disorder of childhood.


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Understanding a mysterious disorder of childhood.

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Gerber Life Family Times Archive

HealthOne of the joys of having a child is being able to watch as he or she grows and develops—moving from infant to toddler to child. Every parent knows the magic of seeing a child grasp an idea or concept for the first time as he or she begins absorbing information and experiences from the surrounding world. There are, however, times when all the pieces do not come together as planned and such is the case for children diagnosed as autistic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated in a 2007 report that 1 in 150 children in America have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Autism Society of America (ASA) adds that an estimated 1.5 million Americans and their families are now affected by autism and that autism has become a national health care crisis costing the United States an estimated $90 billion dollars annually.

The ASA defines autism as a spectrum disorder, and although the disorder is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults with autism can exhibit any combination of the various behaviors with any degree of severity. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) adds that ASD is characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. The ASA adds that a variety of terms are used to describe children within the spectrum including autistic-like, autistic tendencies, autism spectrum, high functioning, low functioning, more-abled, and less-abled. Some with autism may only be mildly affected and may have just slight delays in language but greater challenges with social interactions. The ASA notes that they may have difficulty initiating conversation and/or maintaining a conversation and their communication may be described as talking "at" others instead of talking to them.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following as possible indicators of autism spectrum disorders:

  • Does not babble, point, or make meaningful gestures by 1 year of age
  • Does not speak one word by 16 months
  • Does not combine two words by 2 years
  • Does not respond to name
  • Loses language or social skills
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Doesn't seem to know how to play with toys
  • Excessively lines up toys or other objects
  • Is attached to one particular toy or object
  • Doesn't smile
  • At times seems to be hearing impaired

The ASA notes that persons with autism may exhibit some of the following traits:

  • Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
  • Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or pointing instead of words
  • Difficulty in mixing with others
  • Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
  • Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason or showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
  • Little or no eye contact
  • No real fear of danger
  • Non-responsive to verbal cues; acts as if hearing impaired although tests in normal range.
  • Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled
  • Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
  • Obsessive attachment to objects
  • Preference to being alone
  • Spinning objects
  • Sustained odd play
  • Tantrums
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills
  • Unresponsive to normal teaching methods

HealthThe NIMH notes that parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child, which may include unresponsiveness to people or focusing intently on one item for long periods of time. The first signs of ASD can appear in children who were previously developing normally. The National Institute of Mental Health adds that the appearance of any of ASDs warning signs is sufficient reason to have a child evaluated by a professional specializing in the disorder, and notes that ASD can often be reliably detected by 3 years of age and, in some cases, as early as 18 months of age.

According to the ASA there is no known single cause of autism, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in the brain's structure or function. There is no known cure for autism but there are treatment and educational methods that may help reduce some of the challenges associated with the condition. The ASA adds that individuals can learn to function within the confines of ASD and learn to use the positive aspects of their condition to their benefit. The ASA stresses that treatment for ASD should begin as soon as possible and should be specifically tailored to each child's unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

With a parent's keen observation, prompt and proper medical diagnosis, and early, specialized treatment, a family can learn to live with and minimize the effects of ASD. Life is filled with hurdles and obstacles and learning to deal with and/or overcome them makes each of us a stronger individual. Educate yourself on ASD and perhaps you can help make a difference in someone's future.

As with any health-related issue, consult with your family physician or health care provider regarding any questions or concerns regarding your family's health issues.

Autism Society of America—
National Institute of Mental Health—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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