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    Background and classification of Autism Essay

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    A relatively rare multifactorial disorder occurring in as many as 1 in 500 people, Autism Essay is still largely an enigma to many doctors and scientists (Johnson, Dorman, 1998).

    Until Leo Kanner’s use of the description autistic in 1948, schizophrenia was the general label given to patients with certain behavior patterns. Although autism and schizophrenia are widely seen as separate disorders today, there are still many conflicting classification issues which are distinguished largely with the help of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders, revision IV(DSM-IV). In the last five years research has shown that many people who engage in autistic behaviors have related but distinct disorders (Edelson, 1995). There is no known specific cause for autism, but over the years there has been a growing focus on biological etiology.

    Combinations of psychotherapeutic and medical treatments, as well as comprehensive educational treatment provide the best care and placement of both adults and children afflicted with autism. Adult psychotic disturbances were noted in the early twentieth-century classifications of mental disorders (Nelson, Israel, 1997). The descriptions and classifications of these disturbances, however, were confusing and controversial. Kraeplin set the basis for modern classification. He used the terms dementia, a belief that progressive deterioration occurred, and praecox, meaning the disorders began early.

    Later the term schizophrenia was applied by Bleuer. He argued that deterioration was not inevitable and that psychological factors played a role. As time went on many other different diagnostic terms were applied such as dementia infantilis, disintegrative psychoses, childhood schizophrenia, and childhood psychosis (Nelson, Israel, 1997). Schizophrenia became the most common generalizing term used until 1948 when Leo Kanner described his observation of early infantile autism. He was a pioneer in the field and his studies of eleven severely affected children set out the groundwork for the research that would occur over the next fifty years.

    Kanner gave descriptions of the children, emphasizing their inability to relate to other people and the world around them, a problem exhibited early in life. He quoted parents as referring to their disturbed children as, “self-sufficient,” “like in a shell,” “happiest when left alone,” and “acting as if people weren’t there” (Nelson, Israel, 1997). Kanner then described the isolation displayed by the children with the word autism, meaning an absorption in the self or subjective mental activity. The characteristics Kanner noted in his eleven cases were also observed in other studies and autism was then recognized by the major classifications systems as a distinct syndrome that accounted for many cases of early childhood disturbances.

    Eventually called Autistic Disorder, autism is recognized in the DSM-IV as a pervasive developmental disorder. This broad heading includes four diagnoses used to describe those who display some, but not all, of the autism characteristics (Johnson, Dorman, 1998). One of the problems with autism is that the diagnosis is based on subjective criteria and it is difficult to classify. The umbrella diagnosis is pervasive developmental disorder, which not only includes autism, but several other related disorders including, Asperger’s disorder, Rett’s disorder, Fragile X Syndrome, Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, William’s Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome, and Prader-Willi Syndrome (Tustin, 1992).

    Autism appears to be the end product of several different disorders which share similar social, language, and neurological abnormalities. There are no accurate medical tests for diagnosing autism. The only way a precise diagnoses is achieved through observation of a child’s behavioral, communicational and developmental levels. Because of autism’s multiple behavioral disorders, doctors often complete many tests to rule out other possible causes. Ideally, a child should be evaluated by several professionals, including a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, and learning consultant (Hobson, 1993). The more accurate the diagnosis, the more effective the chosen treatment will be.

    The most cited statistic is that autism occurs in 1 out of 500 births (Johnson, Dorman, 1998). It is four times more likely to affect males than females, but this gender difference is not unique to autism, as many developmental disabilities have a greater male to female ratio. Autism is now considered to be the third most common developmental disability, more common than Downs Syndrome, yet professionals in educational, vocational, and medical fields are still unaware of specific causes and treatments (Johnson, Dorman, 1998).Many .

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