Definition of Autism
Autism is a developmental disorder that surfaces in approximately 1 in 500 children,
usually within the first few years of life. Autism appears to stem from neurological
problems and affects many different parts of the brain, but the precise causes are
At the heart of it, autism is a communicative disorder that impedes social and behavioral
development. Interactions between the autistic child and the world are impaired,
even as early as infancy. Babies with autism may focus on something so intently
that they are unresponsive to their parents. In shutting out verbal and visual cues
that are critical for forming the early neural connections involved in understanding
and communicating with others, the child begins at a significant deficit that can
be increasingly difficult to overcome.
Autism is characterized by several behavioral symptoms that manifest with varying
severities. Symptoms generally include problems with social interactions, difficulties
with communication (both verbal and nonverbal), and repetitive, obsessive behaviors.
For some autistics, the symptoms are mild enough that their behaviors can be somewhat
overcome, allowing them to lead productive lives. For others, the disorder is disabling,
making it too difficult for them to live independently.
Difficulties with social interactions are the hallmark of autism. Children with
autism frequently develop normally in other ways, but have trouble connecting with
others. At a very early age, they may seem withdrawn from people and unresponsive
to their names when called. Autistic children often don't make eye contact with
others and tend not to understand social aspects of playing with other children,
such as taking turns. They may also have difficulties relating and responding to
their playmates because they cannot interpret facial expressions, tones of voice,
or other elements of body language that express emotion.
Autistic children may also have delayed (or limited) speech development. As babies,
they often begin babbling later and with less spontaneity. Early words and word
combinations may instead be repetitive, echoing what has been said to them rather
than responding to things in their own ways. There is a communicative disconnect
between the child and others that prevents them from developing natural conversation
patterns. Because they do not develop intuition about the more subtle elements of
communication, autistic children instead rely upon imitation. Their interpretation
and understanding of others' speech may be similarly limited.
Repetitive behaviors often emerge in autistic children, such as rocking, twirling,
or flapping the hands. Activities may also become repetitive and strictly regimented,
following a set of "rules" defined by the autistic. Straightening, stacking,
aligning, or arranging objects in a certain way might become a compulsion, for example.
As part of this, autistic children can be very inflexible, unable to adapt to changes
in their environments. If changes occur and the child feels out of control, they
may be prone to tantrums. Some autistic children also injure themselves by banging
their heads or biting themselves when they are overcome with frustration.
Autism has been on the rise since the 1990's, and it is estimated that approximately
1 in every 150 children has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD),
a collection of developmental disorders classified by their autism-like symptoms.
It is important for parents to recognize these symptoms and begin treatments early
to ensure the best possible prognosis. There is no cure for autism and it cannot
be "outgrown," but some recovery is possible with educational and medical intervention.
Defeat Autism Now (DAN) is an organization that formed in 1995 to promote collaboration
between researchers, doctors, and parents of autistic children. Through their regular
conferences, the latest biomedical research publications are shared and evaluated
to update the DAN Protocol, a comprehensive ASD treatment manual released to licensed
DAN practitioners. In these approaches, the drugs conventionally used to manage
autism are considered the last choice. Instead, nutritional supplements, chelation
therapies, dietary modifications, and other natural methods are emphasized to offer
the autistic child the safest and most effective long term treatment regimens available.
Symptoms of Autism
As described in the previous section, autism is characterized by behavioral symptoms
that impact social connections, impair communication, and alter the way the child
interacts with the world. Autism is only one of several diagnosed Autism Spectrum
Disorders, a collection of conditions associated with the behavioral symptoms of
autism, each differing somewhat in their specific symptoms and severity. Clinically
speaking, autism is defined by the presence of at least six symptoms total, at least
two related to social interactions, one reflecting communication difficulties, and
one involving restricted or repetitive behaviors. The symptoms must manifest before
the age of three and must not be attributable to other mental disorders.
Autistic babies are often less responsive to their parents, sometimes seemingly
not recognizing them or acknowledging their attentions. They may become intently
focused on objects, showing unusual concentration for an infant. Speech is also
very often delayed in autistic children. Babies typically begin babbling and making
spontaneous sounds within their first 12 months. If by 24 months, the sounds they
make are repetitive and lack spontaneity (if they only echo sounds and words said
to them), it may indicate an ASD. As language develops in autistic children, the
echoing nature of their speech patterns becomes increasingly apparent. Many autistic
children also use their names rather than "me" or "I" when expressing themselves.
The developmental problems regarding social interactions and communication become
even clearer as the autistic child gets older. They may frequently play alone, seeming
withdrawn, as though they are in a world of their own. When they become focused
on objects or activities, they may not respond to other children or to adults trying
to get their attention. Because of these and other unusual social behaviors, they
may have difficulty making friends with other children.
Autistic children also develop repetitive, compulsive, or restrictive behaviors.
They may, for example, repeat physical movements, such as spinning or rocking their
bodies. Some autistic children habitually flap their arms, roll their heads, or
perform other seemingly purposeless movements. They may become compulsive regarding
the way that objects are arranged, persistently stacking or aligning things. Other
ritual-like behaviors may also emerge, inspiring the child to apply peculiar "rules"
to their surroundings or to their daily lives. Some autistic children have very
restrictive diets, refusing to eat most foods. Others will insist upon wearing the
same clothing from day to day.
Many children with autism also display sensory disturbances. They might be unusually
sensitive to certain sounds, for example, finding them unreasonably upsetting. Sensitivity
to touch is also fairly common, causing aversions to certain textures or to being
touched or hugged by another person. In addition to this, some autistic children
have extremely high thresholds for pain. In conjunction with this, self-injury (through
biting or banging the head) is fairly common.
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