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Untitled Essay, Research Paper

AUTISM: A Pervasive Developmental/Spectrum Disorder

Autism or PPD (pervasive developmental disorder) is defined by the Columbia

encyclopedia as a rare neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by the inability

to relate to and perceive the environment in a realistic manner. The onset

of the disorder is in infancy or early childhood, generally before the age

of thirty months, and males are affected four times as often as females.

Symptoms include impairment in social interaction, fixation on inanimate

objects, inability to communicate normally, and resistance to changes in

daily routine (1).

Diagnosing Autism is based on four characteristics: difficulty with language,

abnormal responses to sensory stimuli, resistance to change and difficulty

with social interaction. “Other characteristics of autism may include: making

the same repetitive motion for hours, repeating a sound or phrase, inability

to hold a conversation, practicing unusual play patterns, and extreme sensitivity

to sound and touch” (Riccio, 1999). Autistics can exhibit any combination

of these characteristics in any degree. That is why autism is referred to

as a “spectrum” disorder, because at one end of the disorder a child may

be inflicted with some symptoms, while at the opposite end a child may be

inflicted with multiple symptoms with many areas in between. Children who

display few symptoms may be characterized as “mildly autistic”.

In 1943, a man by the name of Leo Kanner formally identified autism; he labeled

the disorder “autistic disturbance of affective contact”. Autism was first

described in America, officially, in 1980 with the publication of DSMIII

(Peter E. Tanguay; Julia Robertson; Ann Derrick, 1980, p.1). There was much

confusion, both before and after Kanner’s description, regarding the continuity

of autism with schizophrenia and other then-recognized forms of psychosis

(Lippcott/Williams & Wilkins, 1999 p.8). Kanner noticed that autistic

infants had a reverse pattern typically observed in normal infants. Infants

are normally interested in social, as opposed to nonsocial environments.

The cause for autism remains unclear, although most neurological studies

seem to indicate a dysfunction in the brain as a possible reason. Autism

has been found in children with brain abnormalities such as congenital rubella

syndrome, neurofibromatosis, and tuberous sclerosis. Autism can also be present

in genetic syndromes such as fragile X syndrome and phenylketonuria. Some

research has shown that there may be an autism gene, or two genes working

together. These genes are thought to be on the seventh and thirteenth chromosome.

The disorder is, in some instances, may be hereditary as shown by twin studies

that cite there is a “substantially higher rate in identical twins-so much

so that heritablity is over 90%”, says Joseph Piven (cited in Applied Genetics

News p.1). In a Harvard Mental Health letter (1997) statistics found that

the rate of autism and mild retardation in brothers, sisters and fraternal

twins of autistics is 50-100 times higher than average and in id!

entical twins the rate is 65% to 90%. In 1980 it was found that among 11

families with a father diagnosed with autism more than half of their children

were autistic. The apparently normal parents of autistic children had undiagnosed

mild symptoms of autism when tested.

Early signs of Autism may appear in the first months of life. Autistic infants

tend to stray away from other people, avoiding touch and become limp or stiff

when picked up or help. Autistic children dont reach maturation as fast as

normal children. A normal child will point to objects or smile when seeing

their mother before the end of their first year, but children with autism

develop this behavior much later. These symptoms may go on unnoticed by parents

or doctors in infancy, but by the age of two to three it is clear that something

is wrong.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that one in 500 children

in America suffer from autism. Autistic children are unable to recognize

themselves or remember things that they have just done. For example, if an

autistic child were to show someone a toy of theirs, they would forget they

have just showed it and show the toy repeatedly as if they have never presented

it before. They may examine a simple little toy or electronic device for

hours without losing interest, or rock back and forth in a particular spot

for an entire afternoon. The repetition of little things seem to be a grand

achievement for these children.

In diagnosing, or assessing autism the child’s history is taken into

consideration. For instance whether or not the family has autism in any other

branches of its tree can help to determine whether a child may or may not

have autism. The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent

Psychiatry (1999) states: Aspects of the assessment will vary depending on

the child’s age, history, and previous evaluations (p.6). The history would

include the history of the pregnancy and development of the child, marking

such milestones as communication and motor skills (i.e. child’s first words

or steps), and when thought to be unusual. Doctors will often discuss their

medical history, such as possibility of seizures, hearing and visual impairments

along with other conditions or syndromes such as fragile X syndrome. Doctors

will do this because there is not a specific laboratory test for autism at

this point in time. These studies and discussions help in the search for

a dia!

gnosis. A test for fragile X syndrome may be given because of its association

with autism. Autistic children are often characterized by repetitive motions

such as clapping, handflapping and rocking back and forth. Some are extremely

sensitive to minor noises, scents and pain, and may even throw tantrums for

no apparent reason at any given time.

Experts say early intervention is critical. Some treatments include special

diets and vitamin supplements, and focus on drawing a child with autism away

from their agenda. If an autistic child is geared away from what they want

they tend to become aggressive. Autistic children tend to stray away from

conversation or tasks in an irregular manner unable to focus on what others

may want. Some signs of the disorder include a decrease in language skills

and interaction in activity and attention with others. People with autism

dont understand social norms or rules like normal people. Autistics are unable

to learn from observation. They need to be taught the significance and meaning

of a frown as a pose to a smile, or how to focus on the person that is talking

to them.

Autism is easily confused with low intelligence, but many children with autism

are in fact very smart. “While 70 percent of the children diagnosed with

autism score below average on IQ tests, many are of normal intelligence,

and a few are considered quite bright” (Riccio, 1999 p.1). Autistics can

learn and improve their education and behavior, and this allows some of them

to function as close to normal if not equal in society although most still

need assistance with living and job skills throughout adulthood.

Every autistic child is unique. Not all therapies are universal. Each one

has to be tailored for the specific patient. People with autism like a very

structured environment. They like consistency in their surroundings. Even

a slight change in their home setting, E.I.: the movement of a table, can

be very unsettling and make the child agitated.

Although most autistic people are severely mentally retarded about 10 percent

are autistic “savants”. A savant is a person who incredibly excels in a

particular area, such as music or math. “A person who has autism yet can

play a Beethoven sonata after hearing it just once, or can do complex

mathematical equations, or tell you whether December 3, 1956, fell on a Tuesday

or Wednesday” (p.1). Savants may be mentally retarded but they have what

Dr. Pratt says is “a very strong, specific talent” (cited in Riccio, 1999).

Savants may also have the ability to focus solely on one specific task, or

talent while tuning out their immediate surroundings. The part of their brain

that their talent is derived from may be intensified, and used almost to

full capacity. Gary Anthes, a reporter for Computer World states that “autistic

individuals are excellent candidates for computer programming and graphics

positions” (1997, p.1). Because autistics can often exhibit strong talents

and !

are able to focus so well these types of jobs would be greatly beneficial

to themselves and their employers. Because of their lack of social skills

they are able to focus solely on their work, and the fact that autistic people

need a clear cut plan or goal, like the plans and goals programming offers,

helps them overcome the obstacles of life with autism. The Americans with

Disabilities Act of 1990 helped produce user-friendly work environments for

those with physical impairments (Anthes 1997, p.2). This act has helped both

the disabled and the employer realize the specific needs of each other and

work together to suit the interests of both the employer and the disabled


In conclusion, autism is a very complex disorder and because of the different

extents of the disorder it is very hard to find a cure. With the technology

of today improving at a rapid rate autism is now better understood and treated

than fifty years ago when autism was first “announced”. People are starting

to realize and understand that people with autism have something to offer,

and just aren’t mentally retarded. Although this disorder is not very pleasant

its condition has improved over the time it was first introduced as a pervasive

development disorder, and hopefully within the next fifty years a possible

cause or cure will be developed for autism.


Article with a Print Counterpart

Anthes, G. (1997, April). Autistic offer unique skills to IS. Computerworld,

31, 37

Article with a Print Counterpart

Piven, J., Arndt, S., Bailey, J., Andreasen, N. (1996.) Regional brain

enlargement in Autism: a magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of the

American Avademy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 530-537.

Article with a Print Counterpart

Riccio, N. (1999, Dec.). Understanding Autism. Current Health, 26,


Article with a Print Counterpart|

(1993). Autism. In The Columbia Encyclopedia, 5, p.2668. Columbia University


Article with a Print Counterpart

(1981, March). Autism- Part I.

Harvard Mental Health Letter. 13 1, 4

Article with a Print Counterpart

(1999.) Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children,

Adolescents, and Adults With Autism and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

Journal of the American Avademy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 32s.

Article with a Print Counterpart

(1999, Dec.). Possible Gene on Chromosome 13.

Applied Genetics, 20, NA

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