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Autism (pp. 565-570)

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) that is very complex and involves many different and separate physical and mental disorders. Researchers have long been puzzled by autism, or childhood autism as it is often referred to. This severely disabling disorder affects approximately 80,000 children in the United States and is usually diagnosed by therapists and psychologists before the onset of two and a half years of age.

Doctors note many of the complex disorders and symptoms associated with autism during the months of infancy. Babies who would normally look toward recognizable voices and reach out to people are often times devoid of these social growth indicators. The absence of obvious indicators of emotion, such as smiling and laughing have caused researchers and doctors in the past to label autistic children as “emotionally flat.” Researchers, since the release of recent study outcomes, have retracted this label.

There are generally five areas of developmental disorder most prevalent in children diagnosed with autism. One of these areas relates to, and in the past led to the labeling of “emotional flatness.” Autistic disorder often creates in a child a lack of social understanding and a lack of comprehension of social interaction by and toward others. Extreme withdrawal from social situations is often apparent. This behavior is often documented and referred to by the term ‘self-isolation’. It will be discussed at a later time how professionals work with autistic children in the treatment of this particular behavior along with the treatment of other clinical evidence recognized in autistic children.

Development in language skills is often times absent in an autistic child. Although some may develop the ability to learn language, it most often occurs that the autistic child learns simple words such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ by a method called echolalia, which is much like parroting. Along with the disability to learn a vocal language is the inability to deal with loud noises in an environment. Many autistic people do not deal well with loud or constant noise interrupting their environment and when this does occur, an upset in behavior may result.

Where a lot of repetitive movement of an object would begin to annoy most people, the autistic child often focuses on repetitive movement and uses it for stimulation. The tendency to engage in self-stimulatory behavior is often apparent by movements such as rocking back and forth and constant throat humming and on an extreme level, banging of the head repetitively. The latter is usually associated with anger or abrupt change in their environment which causes negative behavior and physical aggression toward self or others. Therapists have used methods such as puzzle piecing or card sorting as a redirection away from these self-stimulatory behaviors. Although putting puzzles together is a well accomplished task by many autistic children, they do often have trouble performing gross motor activities. A lot of repeated assistance and routine patterns is the best way to assist an autistic child in learning activities or schedules due to their low memory ability. A consistent routine can be the key to teaching an autistic child how to learn and perform a specific task. This is believed to be a major plus for the institutional setting, which allows for a routine with no abrupt changes that are so prevalent in the average American home.

One major area of importance when working with a person diagnosed with autism is to set a daily routine and follow it with consistency. To a person with autism, a break in a routine or a change of method is not immediately comprehended. Unlike the “normal” rate of learning, it may take an autistic child two years to learn simple daily tasks such as tying a shoelace, given they are taught using a consistent method and pattern for this specific task. Alongside a daily routine is the importance of placement of things in an autistic child’s surroundings. A sudden change of environment or movement of an object, particularly one that holds meaning to that person, can cause a major upset in their demeanor. An example of this would be the movement of their favorite chair to another room or moving things such as magazines that are an object of fixation for them.

With autism involving so many complex disabilities, it has been difficult for researchers to come to a conclusion about the precise cause of this developmental disorder is. Doctors, scientists and researchers have studied family genetics, damage to genes during prenatal development and they have also taken a closer look at disorders related to autism. Like any other major disability, a family that bears a child with autism is more likely to have a recurrence, but this has not been the majority case.

Because of the lack of known cause in developing autism, treatment has been futile. There are no medications specific in the treatment of autism or it’s many disorders, although a lot of the aggressive behaviors can be controlled with the use of psychotropic and antihypertensive medications. Along with these few medications, intense therapy and consistent routines have proven to be the best method in helping an autistic child to learn how to function in a society and interact appropriately with their environment and social surroundings.

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