Autism Spectrum Disorders
What is the history of Autism?
In 1943, psychiatrist Leo Kanner observed 11 children who he described as having a desire for sameness and social withdrawal. He also claimed these children had speech and language problems, particularly speech delays and echoing mechanisms.
Kanner used the word “autistic” to describe the characteristics of these children who seemed not to posses an ability to relate to people.
Why does autism occur?
There is no definite answer as to why autism occurs. Most researchers believe, however, that biological conditions such as genetic disruptions, neurological damage and biochemical imbalances are the most likely source for the condition.
What does a diagnosis of autism mean?
As described by the DSM-IV, the diagnosis of autistic disorder falls under a broad category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Some of the other disorders that are included in this category are Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Dpecified (PDD-NOS). Here is a brief overview of each disorder:
Autistic Disorder: The Autism Society of America describes autism as a severe and incapacitating life-long developmental disability that typically appears during the first 3 years of a child’s life. Autism is often described as a spectrum disorder, which means the following characteristics can vary in severity and in different combinations.
- Delays in physical appearance, social interaction and language capabilities
- Significant language impairments
- Social impairments
- Restrictive, repetitive, and stereotypical behavioral patterns, interests, and activities
- Sensory processing difficulties
- Difficulty responding to environmental change
- May display cognitive delays
Autism is thought to be a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Autism is more common in boys than girls, and is not limited to ethnicity.
Asperger Syndrome: Individuals with Asperger Syndrome develop with typical cognitive and language skills. They have difficulty with social interactions and often display repetitive and restricted stereotyped patterns of behavior.
Rett Syndrome: Rett Syndrome is extremely rare and only occurs in females. It typically occurs at the age of 1 or 2 when previously acquired skills quickly deteriorate (e.g., hand movements and motor skills, social abilities and communication). This disorder is also characterized by a deceleration in head growth and stereotypic hand wringing or washing.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: The characteristics of autistic disorder and this disorder are almost exactly the same. However, they differ in the age on onset. Individuals who are diagnosed with this disorder typically develop the characteristics between the ages of two to ten years.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS): This condition encompasses individuals who don’t quite meet all the characteristics of the previously described diagnoses, though they do present impaired social interaction or verbal and non-verbal communication skills. These individuals also exhibit repetitive and stereotyped behavioral patterns.
What are some specific characteristics of autism?
Specific characteristics of autism include:
Language Impairments: Researchers believe that speech and language impairments are the most significant problems in individuals with autism. These individuals may not be able to use correct speech sounds or make any sounds at all. They also may not have the ability to communicate with others. That is, they may not understand what others say and/or they may not be able to use words to speak to others. These individuals also may repeat what others say (i.e., echolalia) or use words that others don’t understand. They may also exhibit poor non-verbal behaviors such as eye contact, body language, and facial expressions.
Social Impairments: Autistic individuals may have difficulty relating to others and developing relationships. They may prefer to be alone and sometimes act as if they don’t realize the presence of other people. They may also interact with others in socially inappropriate ways such as touching their ears, licking, or asking repetitive questions.
Some individuals may not be able to read others’ emotions or they may display socially inappropriate emotions (e.g., laughing when someone gets hurt).
Typically, autistic children have difficulty playing appropriately, which is important to developing social skills needed for adolescence and adulthood.
Restrictive, Repetitive, and Stereotypical Behavioral Patterns, Interests, and Activities: Autistic children may engage in self-stimulatory behavior like repetitive body movements (e.g., body rocking, object twirling, light reflection, and hand flapping).
Autistic individuals also may be preoccupied with specific activities or objects and may engage in activity sequences that are not functional.
Sensory Processing Difficulties: Autistic individuals may have difficulty responding to sensations. For example, bright lights, loud sounds, or certain smells may cause distress. They also may experience pain or discomfort when touched or exposed to specific textures.
Some individuals may also have difficulty with fine and gross motor skills. For example, they may have difficulty holding a pencil or their body movements may seem awkward or clumsy.
Difficulty Responding to Environmental Change: A very common characteristic in individuals with autism is their insistence that their environment and routines remain the same. For example, using a different door to exit the school may cause distress.
Autistic individuals may also be attached to certain objects and will have difficulty when those objects are removed. They may require the use of specific objects or locations for engaging in certain activities. For example, a child may need to use the same cup from which to drink, every day.
Cognitive Delays: Individuals with autism may or may not display cognitive deficits. Difficulty arises due to the fact that individuals with autism may all learn differently, and deciphering best teaching methods may be a long process.
How can I help treat my child’s autism?
There are many different treatment approaches for children with autism. Some of them include:
- Animal Therapy
- Music and Art Therapy
- Immune Globulin Therapy
- Secretin Injections
- Chelation Therapy
- Auditory integration training (AIT)
Our Approach at North Shore Pediatric Therapy
At North Shore Pediatric Therapy, we use a multi-disciplinary approach for the treatment of autism. Our speech and occupational therapists and applied behavior analysts work together to assess your child’s needs. The team develops individualized objectives and determines the setting in which your child will be most successful.
We use evidence-based treatment approaches to increase the following skills:
- Speech and language
- Gross and fine motor
- Daily living
- Classroom and group