The Autism Spectrum Explained

Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder

An individual suffering from autism spectrum disorder possesses a set of conditions that limit their interactions in the social circles, behavioral issues, and problems related to the way the individuals communicate verbally or non-verbally.

Autism separates the individuals from the rest by characterizing a variety of differences and along with incredible characteristics specific to them.

Autistic people are specially-abled individuals who could perform specific activities in ways far better than regular; they might take longer to produce the similar outcomes on certain activities.

The much unique strength that autistic people display may include enhanced concentration skills, an eye for detail, and interests in specific activities to an extent where they excel at it among others.

Introduction of the word ‘spectrum’ directly relates to this wide range of characteristics of individuals who suffer from autism and sets them apart from other individuals and makes them look at the world in a different light altogether.

Apart from the challenges that autism spectrum disorder offers, the most important ones include dealing with the treatment that they receive from the outside world and staying stress-free.

It has been known that the symptoms for autism begin to appear at a very young age, usually before 3 years of age and if parents are observant enough to notice them and take consultation, the overall outcomes can be altered for good.

However, it can also be diagnosed later in some of the cases.

You must also understand that there are various types of autism spectrum disorders and that they are all having different effects on the individuals suffering from autism.

And it is practically impossible to find two individuals that share the same characteristics.

Given that curing autism is still a big challenge, you can still help the individuals by exposing them to support groups and therapy.

Reasons that Cause Autism Spectrum Disorder

Till this day, the exact reasons are still not known but there have been studies which claim that autism in kids is caused because of multiple factors such as the genes and the surroundings that affect the development of the brain of the children.

However, researchers are working towards getting to the root cause of autism so that they can find ways for prevention from it or cure it in the later years.

It was believed for many years that autism was caused by a special vaccine called MMR but after years of research, it was found that autism is not caused by any vaccines.

Major Challenges faced by Autistic People

The individuals who are suffering from autism spectrum disorder tend to show some or all of the below-mentioned characteristics:

  • Insomnia and difficulties in sleep cycles
  • Inability to interact or socialize with people and make new friends
  • Stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Lack of interest in people or activities
  • Atypical expressions and body postures
  • Lack of communication skills
  • Problems related to language comprehension
  • Unusual body movements and obsessive in behavior
  • Repetitiveness in conversations and behavior
  • A strong dislike for change in the schedule

The people suffering from autism cannot be differentiated physically and it’s only these symptoms that could help you identify if someone is suffering from autism spectrum disorder.

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders

As Prof Stephen Shore aptly stated- “If you have met one person on the autism spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.”

There are a large number of autism spectrum disorders most common of which are:

  • Asperger Syndrome
  • PDD-NOS
  • Autism
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

This is the most recent classification that is used to describe people suffering from autism spectrum disorder.

1. Asperger Syndrome

People suffering from Asperger Syndrome are known to be one of the most intelligent individuals who possess unique strengths and can perform better than their ormal’ counterparts.

These people are passionate and self-driven towards any specific area of interest and constantly work towards excelling at it.

However, these people lack social and communication skills and tend to be really uncomfortable when they have to interact with others.

2. PDD-NOS

PDD-NOS or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Specified Otherwise is not a mild form of autism spectrum disorder such as Asperger Syndrome and displays some or all of the challenges mentioned and lack social and communication skills to a much lower extent.

3. Autism

Autism includes most of the systems of the autism spectrum disorder and the people are known to display extreme characteristics before they reach the age of three.

4. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

One of the rare and most critical parts of the spectrum, Childhood Disintegrative Syndrome affects the people after they have been born normal.

The syndrome is known to affect the children and make them lose all their skill as soon as they reach the second year of their life.

This syndrome might also cause seizures and epilepsy among the children.

This means you can find various people who are equally autistic with having strong contrasts in their mental abilities and behavioral patterns.

You can place almost everyone suffering from autism spectrum disorder on the spectrum with the severity of the behavior patterns deciding their positions on it.

The people at the two extreme ends are classified on the basis of their mental abilities.

It is also found that there is a whole new spectrum within the mentioned spectrum that shows variations in the generic ideas.

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder

Once the type of the autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed, you can move towards the next step of treating it.

It must be understood that there has been no effective cure found for this disorder yet but you can always get support and therapy in order to make their situations better.

If you are worried about your child’s condition and want to determine whether he/she is suffering from autism spectrum syndrome, it is recommended that you see experienced professionals because the diagnosis of autism is an intricate procedure.

You can go for a particular treatment after your kid has been diagnosed with the type of autism spectrum disorder.

These tests include an assessment to evaluate your child’s cognitive skills, assessment of communication skills to identify any specific disorder, and assessment of your child’s problem-solving skills along with the evaluation of his skills to interact in social groups among others.

10 Ways to Care For a Child With Autism

Autism is a condition characterized by challenges in speech, intellectual ability, motor and general social skills.

There are several types of autism. The condition is caused by genetic and environmental factors, and it presents a big puzzle to caregivers.

Taking care of an autistic child can be devastating.

If you have just learnt that your child has autism, you most probably are frightened and wondering how you will take care of your child without necessarily wearing yourself out.

If you are wondering on how to adequately take care of your autistic child, read on. The tips discussed below will come in handy in ensuring you as a parent, or caretaker effectively and adequately takes care of an autistic child.

1. Accept your child’s condition

The first and most significant step towards ensuring your child leads almost a healthy life is accepting their situation.

Being at peace with your child’s condition will boost your self-esteem, as well as the kid’s.

Do not compare your child to other children.

Celebrate any small progress as if it were a significant achievement. Let the kid know that you love them unconditionally.

If they feel the love, the kid’s self-esteem is boosted.

This way, they will have the zeal to engage in activities that boost their growth and development.

2. Be consistent to reinforce learning

Autistic children may have problems putting to action what they learn. If the parent does not ensure they rehearse what the child has mastered, they will most probably forget everything.

A parent should keep abreast with what the child learns at school or at the therapist’s.

You should then help the child rehearse what they discovered.

A child may have little or no interest in rehearsing.

In fact, they may feel like you are harassing them.

This is why a parent should create a consistent schedule of rehearsing. For instance, it becomes easier for an autistic child to learn sign language if they are taught the same at the same hours daily.

3. Always reinforce positive behavior

If you fail to reinforce positivity in your child, you are creating a risky precedence.

Any little progress should be awarded praises, celebrations or even material rewards.

Make an effort to catch’ the child doing something positive.

If not, you could give them a chance to perform their newly learned skill, and later award them.

4. Create a safe environment for them

Ensure that the home environment is safe for an autistic child to play.

It is advisable to secure a safe play-zone’ for your kid in the house.

Keep the room safe from anything that can hurt the child.

Some autistic children are prone to throwing tantrums, violent behaviors
and self-injurious characteristics.

If the room is not safe for the child to play around, they may seriously injure themselves.

You do not want to add injuries to autism because it takes a twist that will change how you give to your child.

Keep your home safe not only for your autistic kid but also for everyone.

5. Play with the child

Spend a lot of time playing with your child.

Just like any other child, autistic children love to have fun.

They love to engage in educational and therapeutic activities.

Playing with the child will make them feel loved.

Show the kid how different toys are used.

Playing with the kid will also help them develop their social skills.

Ensure you show them their boundaries while playing, and letting them know what they can touch, and what they cannot.

6. Master their non-verbal cues

Autistic children mostly have challenges with verbal communication.

They, therefore, use non-verbal cues to communicate.

Learn this non-verbal cues to enhance communication with the child.

The child may throw tantrums, use gestures, signs and body language to communicate.

Learn these cues and act accordingly whenever a child needs anything.

It is also essential to learn what bothers the child, what the child enjoys, and what relaxes them.

7. Create an effective treatment plan

There are different treatment plans for autistic children.

This is because there are different spectrums of the autism.

All in all, the treatment plan should:

  • Focus on cultivating the child’s interest
  • Create a predictable learning and play schedule
  • Teach skills and tasks as a series of simplified steps
  •  Reinforce positive behavior
  • Involve parents, teachers and therapists

Once the child’s strengths have been established, the treatment plan should focus on reinforcing the strengths.

The plan should incorporate means of using the kids plan to learn new skills.

When choosing an autistic treatment, it is advisable to consult a therapist and doctors.

Some treatments aim at reducing problematic and undesirable traits while building positive traits.

Some approaches focus on sensory integration problems, emotional balance, speech development and development of motor skills.

8. Teach self-care skills

It is essential to have in mind that not all autistic people are the same.

Some have abilities that others do not have.

If the child is not able to take care of themselves, it is advisable to teach them one skill at a go.

For instance, teach them to brush their teeth, and then show them how to bath.

Do not be frustrated when they do not master the skills.

It may take time for them to learn a skill.

Patience is required whenever dealing with autistic children.

9. Expose the child to the world around them

Spend a lot of time with the kid.

Take them to shows, shopping, do groceries, and even to the malls. Do not lock up the kid.

Exposing the kid to the environment helps them develop social skills, and have a look at what is around them.

No parent is prepared to have a kid who is less than healthy and happy.

All parents wish to have bouncy children, who will progress to their adulthood without any significant health conditions.

If your kid has been diagnosed with autism, you will have to be emotionally stable, for yourself and the child.

Taking good care of them will make their growth and development easy.

In Conclusion

Autism can be overwhelming.

It is good to have a few nights or day off when your child is of course under the care of a nanny.

Furthermore, you could join support groups for autistic children.

In this autistic support groups, you can learn tips on how to take care of autistic children, without necessarily wearing yourself out.

The Top Existing Treatments for Autism

It takes a lot of time and resources to take care of autistic children or relatives.

It is therefore paramount to understand what Autism is, what causes the condition and if there is any cure or treatment for the same.

Autism whose full name is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that develops when one is very young.

People with ASD usually perceive the world in a different way.

Their brain is affected and they have a problem socializing with other people.

Another symptom is that people with the condition also develop a limited, repetitive pattern in their behavior.

Since the condition has a wide range of symptoms and severity, it is referred to as Autism spectrum’ Disorder.

Usually, children with the condition will start to show the symptoms in their first year. Other children will develop the symptoms after 18 to 24 months.

What Causes Autism?

Unfortunately, the condition does not have any specific known cause.

Since the condition has a very wide range of severity and symptoms, there might be more than one cause of the diseases.

However, genetic and environmental factors might play a role.

Genes

Genes can be responsible for the condition in children.

Some genetic disorders like Rett syndrome as well as weak X syndrome might be responsible for the condition.

Additionally, genetic mutations or changes might be responsible for the condition.

Genes might also be responsible for disruption in brain cell communication or affect the development of the brain cell thus causing ASD.Some gene mutation are inherited while others occur on their own accord.

Environmental Factors

Some of the environmental factors that are thought to cause autism are complications during pregnancy, viral infections, or air pollution.

Treatment for Autism

Due to the wide spectrum of the severity and symptoms of the condition, there are different treatments to ASD.

A combination of therapies is used to treat ASDto improve fine motor skills, speech and behavior.

In addition to therapy, medication can also be used to treat the symptoms that accompany the disease.

Although treatments can vary, the goal is the same- to help the child learn and relative as best as they can to the people and environment around them.

Types of Treatments (Behavioral and Communication)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

This treatment is very common in people especially children with autism and is administered mainly in schools and clinics. The main goal of the treatment is to help the child learn positive behavior and shun negative tendencies.Applied Behavior Analysis involves the following treatments.

  • Discrete Trial Training-in this case, simple lessons and positive reinforcement is used.
  • Pivotal Response Training- very important in helping the patient to learn and communicate.
  • Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention- this is a treatment that is well suited for children under the age of 5 years.
  • Verbal Behavioral Intervention- it is a treatment that deals mainly with language skills.

Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR)

DIR is also known as the floortime treatment.

It is so called because the treatment involves getting to the floor with the autistic child to engage in the activities they like.

The purpose of this treatment is to help the child grow intellectually and emotionally.

It also helps them learn how to communicate and also develop and express their emotions.

Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication- Handicapped Children (TEACCH)

The treatment uses visual representations like picture cards to teach the child activities like getting dressed.

The trick of the treatment is to use small chunks of information to teach the child the skills you want them to learn.

Play Treatment

Although children with autism play differently from other children, they none the less play and as such it is important to understand their play behavior.

They basically focus on specific parts of a toy instead on the whole toy itself.Additionally, they might not want to play with other children and they do not also like pretend play.

Apart from all this, children with ASD will usually express themselves through play.

They use their toys and actions to pass on a message.

Through play treatment, children with autism learn how to connect with other children and adults as well.

Additionally, play therapy is used by therapists to help autistic children develop their social interaction and communication skills.

Occupational Therapy Treatments

This is therapy that helps an autistic child to develop skills in various areas.

It involves activities like buttoning up or holding the fork.

It is also helpful in teaching the child other activities and skills like school work or play.

As earlier stated, each autistic child is unique and occupational therapy depends on the condition of a specific child.

Speech Therapy

As the name suggests, speech therapy is used to help the child with their communicative and interaction skills.

Speech therapy does not necessarily mean speaking, non-verbal skills,such as making eye contact, are also taught in this treatment.

The child is also taught how to be engaged in a conversation by responding when they are required to respond.

The therapy also involves teaching the child to recognize and respond to gestures.

The child is also taught how to express themselves through picture cues, computers and sign language.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA is one of the most widely used treatment for ASD.

It works very well when it is used on children below the age of 5 years.

It also works equally well with children above the age of 5 years.

The treatment is used to teach children how to socialize, improve fine motor skills and speech.

The child is also taught how to increase their reasoning skills.

The treatment works best with positive reinforcement and observation.

However, ABA treatment has several drawbacks. First, it requires a one-on-one session between the therapist and the autistic child. Secondly, it is an expensive therapy.

For best results, it is best for a parent to learn this therapy so that they can continuously reinforce positive behavior in the autistic child.

Despite these drawbacks, the treatment is one of the best since it ensures that your child is suited better to interact with autistic and non-autistic people in the best way possible.

Conclusion

Autism is a disorder that mainly affects the brain causing a person to have a problem while interacting with other people and the surrounding environment.

Although the condition is incurable, there are different types of treatments available to help the person lead a better life.

The History of Autism and its Discovery

Many people that do not know the history of autism think that it is a recent modern day discovery.

That is because there are more cases of autism reported now than there were many years ago.

The assumption is before autism got its diagnostic name, it did not exist.

However, this is not true, as autism has existed for as long as man has existed.

The only difference between then and now is that autism had other labels all with different meanings.

People that had autism in the 1800’s got different and sometimes extremely harsh treatment from society than those that have the medical condition today.

They did not fit in with other members of the society andfaced ostracizationand labelling.

This has however changed over the years as people continue learning the history of autism.

Before we review the history of autism, let us learn what autism is.

What is Autism?

The definition of autism varies and many people confuse autism with autism spectrum disorder.

The two are completely different.

Autism is a developmental disorder that could get serious that impairs a person’s ability to interact and communicate well.

Autism spectrum disorder on the other hand is a range of varying conditions all characterized by several challenges ranging from repetitive behaviours, unique strengths, social and communication skills and different ways of doing things.

There are many types of autism, all caused by varying combinations of environmental and genetic influences.

In majority of the cases, autism appears to children aged between 2 and 3 years.

Some early diagnosis to children as young as 18 months is also possible.

Some of the delays brought about by autism can be rectified if addressed early enough.

Signs and symptoms of autism

Some of the most common symptoms of autism are

  • Communication difficulties
  • Difficulties in interacting socially
  • Obsessive behaviours
  • Repetitive disorder

The early signs are:

Failure for a child to make eye contact especially during feeding time, smile back, respond to familiar voices and his or her name, follow visual objects, gesticulate.

There is no cure for autism but there are different therapies that make it easier for people living with autism to cope.

These are music therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and teacher therapy.

The History and Discovery of Autism

Before 1911, the word autism did not exist.

It was simply a condition with many different labels.

Since 1908, the understanding of autism has changed a lot with more and more people accepting it as a medical condition like any other.

Below are the main events in the history and discovery of autism

1908

1908 is the year that the word autism came into being.

A Swiss psychiatrist by the name Eugene Bleuler was the first person to come up with the name to describe several schizophrenic patients that seemed self-absorbed and withdrawn.

Bleuler derived the word autism from the Greek word autos, meaning self.

Autism, according to Bleuler meant withdrawal within self and morbid self-admiration.

1943

In 1943, child psychiatrists Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, the following year, worked separately to carry out a research on autism.

Kanner reported on the children severely affected by autism, while Asperger reported on autistic children that were able to do things well.

In his study, Kanner had children for his research all with varying conditions.

The conditions ranged from difficulties in adapting to changing routines daily, interacting socially, keeping good memories, lack of stimuli sensitivity, food allergies, echolalia, lack of spontaneity and intellectual potential.

1944

On the other hand, Hans Asperger studied children with the same symptoms and signs of those that Kanner studied apart from a few differences.

His group of children did not portray any linguistic problems but instead spoke as if they were grown-ups.

This means they did not have Echolia like Kanner group of children.

In his research paper, he also noted that many of the children with autism that he studied portrayed completely different motor skills from those of normal children.

He also noted that they were clumsy and over active.

1967

Next to carry out research on autism and autism, spectrum disorder was Bruno Bettelman.

Bruno studied the effect therapy would have on autistic children by putting three children into therapy and studied their response.

His report talked on “refrigerator mothers” who he said were the causes of autism in children.

“Refrigerator mothers” means the mothers were not warming up to their autistic children making their conditions worsen.

He then went ahead to separate the children from their mothers and observe the outcome.

His theory that the kids suffered due to living with frigid mothers of course came under attack because it was not true.

One parent advisor by the name Fred Volkmar, who was also the M.D and Director of the Child Study Centre at Yale University of Medicine, explained that the researchers failed to consider the role genetics and biology played in the development of autistic disorders.

1977

In the 1970’s, people were now more aware of autism and its symptoms.

A research carried out on twins in 1977, showed that the causes of autism were largely due to biological differences in a child’s brain development and genetics.

1980

Erica foundation was founded with the main aim of offering education and therapy to children with psychosis.

Some parents still thought their autistic children were either psychotic or mentally retarded.

“Infantile autism” got a listing for the first time in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

This helped to officially separate childhood schizophrenia with autism.

Still in the 1980’s, Lorna Wing and Christopher Gillberg added disturbed mutual communication, limited imagination and disturbed mutual contact as other autistic disorders.

In 1990, they added a fourth one, which was limited ability to plan.

1987

DSM replaced infantile autism in 1987 with a more thorough autism disorder definition.

The replacement included a checklist with different criteria for diagnosis.

In the same year, a study showing intensive therapy can help control autism was published by Ivar Lovaas, an UCLA psychologist.

This gave hoe to many parents that had autistic children.

1988

Public awareness to autism got a boost with the release of the movie Rain ManthatfeaturedDustin Hoffman as an autistic person who could carry out huge calculations because of his photographicmemory.

1994

Autism became a category in the special education unit and schools started identifying kids with autism and offering different kinds of services to them.

In the same year, Asperger’s syndrome got an addition in the DSM.

This helped to include autistic cases of highly functional individuals.

1998

Lancet published an article linking measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism.

There was no proof though though which saw the finding being questioned.

2000

Due to fears from the public, the vaccine thimerosal, which contained a mercury-basedpreservative,was removed from all vaccines given to children.

There was fear that it too contributed to autism.

This claim was also questioned and said not to be true.

2009

CDC improves screening for children to determine those that have autism.

It also established that the numbers of the disorder was on the rise.

2013

This year saw the creation of ASD, which brought all the sub categories of autism together.

ASD is in two categories, which are 1) restricted and or repetitive behaviour, and 2) impairedsocial communication and/or interaction.