You may have seen an autistic child or adult and never knew that the person had a diagnosis. Your ignorance about the disorder is not uncommon because most people who are not experienced with the disorder look at autistic people as those who are mentally retarded or have some learning disability. This is not true. Autism is a very complicated disorder that affects children typically from the age of three to conception.
The disorder is neurological in nature and primarily affects the areas of the brain where communication and social interaction is developed. To the unsuspecting person, the autistic child or adult would be considered mentally unstable or retarded.
The unique thing about autism and the reason it is sometimes hard to detect is that the disorder affects different sufferers in different levels of complexity. A mildly affected child may be able to communicate their wants and needs, but there communication is often stifled and they do not understand the subtleties of the English language. Sometimes humor, irony, and other nuances of the language will present a difficult or impassible barrier to the child’s communication process. Another autistic sufferer may have severe autism where the child or the adult cannot communicate at all. The sad thing is that the autistic person can think about the what they want to say and how to communicate it, but the words do not come out and their silence on appears on the outside.
Autistic children act differently to normal situations than other kids. Loud noises, a deviation from a familiar route, or a change in time schedule can set an autistic child off with sometimes violent consequences. The acts of an autistic child could be misinterpreted as a behavior disorder or an emotional disorder. Simple communication is not there. If a autistic child is hot, it has been reported that some will strip naked in public and run around. The communication is there. They are hot. It is cooler when I am naked. Therefore I will be naked and be cool. Again, the communication is there, but the socially accepted communication in which we communicate is not.
Factors that contribute to Autism
Autism is a mystery for most health care professionals. They have found no one clear cause for autism though there are several autism factors that are common throughout the research. The most common is that autistic sufferers have abnormalities in their brain. When compared to non-autistic people, autistic brains are shaped differently and function differently. There are many theories concerning the factors that contribute to autism in which genetics, heredity, and environmental aspects are suspected. The genetic theory is supported that in some families there are patterns of disabilities and mental illness that are frequent and autism is considered apart of this pattern.
What causes the mutations or the passing of the autistic gene is uncertain. Some researchers believe that a group of unstable genes interfere with the development of the brain during the early years of life and these genes rearrange themselves to hinder the proper realignment of brain tissue. If this is truly a factor for the contribution to autism then it cannot be stopped with today’s medical knowledge. If the genes are isolated, genetic screening before pregnancy can determine if the parents have a predisposition to give birth to an autistic child.
Environmental factors have been another theory that researchers have come up with. The research for this idea is very sketchy and according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry there has been no link between autism and an outside source such as chemicals or other toxins in the environment. Remember that this may be a link and the research is just not showing the connection yet. With all the pollution that is in our air and water and all the contaminants we consume in our food, there is all likelihood that environmental factors are indeed a piece in the puzzle.
Physical medical condition has shown a possibly of being a contributing factor.
Conditions such as tuberous sclerosis and congenital rubella syndrome has yielded results that there is a high percentage of autistic manifestations after diagnosis. Also phenylketonuria also known as PKU and fragile X syndrome has been known to contribute a high number of cases that also link themselves to autism. The jury is still out to whether these conditions have percentages high enough to officially correlate evidence that leads to autism, but at this point the suspicion is there.
The contributing factors are sketchy at best, but there are factors that you can rule out. For some reason autistic kids have a predisposition to the autistic condition.
You can’t blame the parents for the parents have no control over their DNA. If a family does have a high occurrence of disabilities, they should still have right and the ability to procreate and to have happiness as a family. Environmental conditions are also not completely to blame unless a parent on purpose puts toxins into their bodies before or during pregnancy. Some say that drugs and alcohol consumption by the parent is a contributing factor. So far there is no link to drugs, alcohol, or alcohol fetal syndrome and autism. For now we have to accept autism for what it is. The child, parents, or genetics are not to be blamed until there is more research done and more evidence that point to one contributing factor. For now until that research is done we must do everything we can to let the silent voices be heard and help those already inflicted with this terrible disorder.
Symptoms of Autism
Right now, genetics seem the only real connection for a cause and effect in regards to autism. Genetic research is being done right now and the call for research from the National Autistic Society is desperate. They are willing to look at any research in the realm of genetics and autism and will help correlate future research with what they have in their archives now. There are some promising breakthroughs but there is not enough evidence to support a grounded theory. The only general theme that has been found is that there is a genetic link between close relatives and the sufferers of autism.
The search for the specific gene that causes this link is not under study. The Collaborative Autism Project and the International Genetic Study have been studying chromosomes that might have an influence on whether a child is autistic or not. This sounds difficult, but researchers are not even sure that it is just one gene that causes autism. If more than one gene affects autism outcomes, then even though the chance of finding one of those genes is statistically greater, the excitement and following research may ignore the others. Both research facilities have come to one conclusion but it is a weak one at best. They believe that the gene might be found in chromosome 7 of our genetic makeup. This means they have found a possible haystack and now they have to look for the needle.
Dr. Michael Dougherty of the American Institute of Biological Sciences argues the pure genetic cause theory. He thinks that there is a combination between both genetics and environmental factors. This could be true because outside environmental changes affect both phenotypical and genotypical characteristics of an organism. He believes that chromosome 12 is the main culprit to the genetic side of autism. If a child receives two mutated copies of this chromosome the amino acids that are a part of food proteins cannot be broken down. This would lead to a mutation in the development of the brain and particularly the part of the brain that controls communication and social skills. He adds that the presence of phenylketonuria may call another malfunction of the brain that produces behavior that will be diagnosed as autism. Since the PKU can be detected at birth and when detected, a special diet thwarts the negative side effects; both PKU and genetics have duel roles in the creation of autism.
The collaboration to find data and share research on autism is still in its infancy.
The collaboration process between researchers only began in 1996. This means only a decade has been dedicated to finding the source of the disorder. The gene mapping projects that have fascinated researchers for years have yielded results to the cause and some cures of many diseases since it has begun. This give hopes to people who have autistic children and also hope to prospective parents who think that might be predisposed to the gene. Remember though, if the gene is found it is only a step to the cure. The gene’s discovery will only allow the medical community to let parents know they have a predisposition before pregnancy and once pregnant the disorder has a good chance of occurring. Only time and patience will be needed to find both the cause and the cure of this disturbing disorder. All the parents can do for their child that has the disorder is to love them and give them the quality of life that they deserve. As with all diseases, autism will someday be a thing of the past.
The symptoms of autism are hard to define because each autistic child is unique in their own way. Not only are the symptoms individualized but the severity of the disorder also differs from child to child. One child might have mild autism and be able to function normally at home or in the classroom. The only difference you might see is minor social awkwardness when interacting with other or a certain preference of where there food is positioned on a plate. On the severe side you might see a child that has no communication skills. They are impulsive and their behavior, though no fault of theirs, borders on one that is socially unacceptable. Some autistic children have no fear of social norms.
One of the symptoms of autism is a delayed or unusual speech pattern. When young severe autistic children will grunt, stutter, or talk slowly with long breaks between each word or syllable. Mild autistic children have been known to memorize entire books or scripts from a television show. There was a case in Maine where a teenage autistic boy could not tell you what he had for breakfast or what his mother’s name was but he could tell you, by cabin, the entire passenger manifest of the Titanic. Other cases have included numbers in their speech pattern. A autistic child in Texas had the unusual talent of counting the number of letters of each word as you spoke them. The count was accurate and immediate, but again, simple knowledge was almost impossible to communicate.
Subtle nuances in language are also a symptom of autism. For example, the autistic child would not understand humor or would find humor in something that was not funny. The emotional reaction to irony or sarcasm would seem out of place and unusual in normal conversation. Physical comedy may be understood by the autistic
child, but there actions in both body language and spoken word would seem inappropriate to the situation. When talking to an autistic child, the lack of eye contact is normally seen. They may be listening to you, but their body and eyes are concentrated on something else. You may have their full attention, but you would think that the child was totally consumed by another person or an object that has little significance to you.
The autistic child sometime does not have the ability to imagine anything outside of self. If you asked an autistic child if they would like to do what their friend is doing or how would you feel if that happened to you, they could not put the concept together to compare themselves to the other person or situation. Putting themselves in another’s shoes is not a concept they can grasp or communicate. When they do communicate it may seem awkward and inappropriate. They may speak with a very high voice that seems out of place or with a very flat voice that is sometimes inaudible or hard to understand. The conversation, if they are capable will be void of any slang words or words associated in the vocabulary of a person that age.
All these nuances and symptoms of the disorder can be viewed, especially by peers, as being socially unacceptable and divergent of societal norms. Even when playing with others, the other children will have a hard time interacting with the autistic child. This could lead to isolation and further social development unless the interaction is facilitated by an understanding adult.