Autism Essay: 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 .