Autism for Dummies – part one
What is Autism? I wanted to wait awhile and educate myself as to what it is said to be and what it looks like for us. Medically and diagnostically speaking it is a pervasive developmental spectrum disorder.
This means that if you line a hundred children with Autism up together you will find three areas in common in which they all will universally have some degree of impairment. These areas are social cueing and relationships, communication both in expression and reception, and perceptual problems resulting in some form of rigid patterned behaviors, an over or under responsivity to incoming stimuli, or a need to stick to a very set pattern or routine to feel safe.
But, once these children are lined up together, though they will all have at least some affectation in these three areas, the pendulum swings wide from there.
Nobody knows what causes Autism. There are two forms of genetically produced Autism that are known. One is called Fragile X syndrome and the other is a condition that only affects girls called Rhett’s Syndrome. My son has neither of these forms. All other cases are a sort of mystery to the medical community as well as the general public.
There has been some controversy over the years suggesting the medical grade of mercury that was found in the childhood immunization MMR might be the cause. Many believe that even if not the shots it is almost certainly an environmental culprit. But, research, thus far, does not necessarily support those theories.
Others think that it is purely genetic. A flip of the coin and a loss on the genetic craps table. If you asked me I would guess the truth, as it so often likes to hide, will be found somewhere in the middle of these ideas. A genetically predisposed child is triggered somewhere along some crucial point in their development. Science does not back me so far. We are told it is genetics though nobody can quite pinpoint how it happens.
There is no cure for Autism. If your child has it he or she will grow to be an adult who has it. There are treatment and therapy for Autism available. Many of these therapies involve a heavy influence on unlocking speech. There are sensory integration therapies and Occupational therapies. All of it is designed to help the Autistic child learn to communicate and to integrate the things he or she sees, hears, and feels in a way that makes sense in his or her mind and body. The goal is to connect the mind to the body of the Autistic child and then to connect the child to the rest of the world. Studies show that earlier intervention beginning, at or before three years of age, is showing very promising results. There is hope today for the most deeply affected child.
No two Autistic children are exactly alike. Some are devastatingly crippled in one area, perfectly normal in another, and standing next to another Autistic child you might not even guess they share the same disorder. Some children are much more mildly affected than others and they are classed as a high functioning form of Autism called Aspergers Syndrome. These children often have far less affectation to their ability to speak and often have a higher degree of cognitive function, at least at an earlier age, than their classic Autistic brothers.
The prevalence of Autism has skyrocketed over the last 30 years. The numbers look like this in 1980 1 in 5,000 children were born with Autism in America, in 2007 it became 1 in 150, and now in 2010, it is 1 in 110. It is 1 out of every 70 boys being born today. And the number of girls with non-genetic forms of Autism is also increasing dramatically. People who once thought they were safe when they saw they were expecting a girl should no longer feel so secure.
Many people think it is a package and parcel deal that one, we are able to diagnose and are classing far more children that would have been missed a decade ago, and on the more damaging side two, that Autism has become a catch-all word for a parenting or behavioral problems. Both of these ideas are damaging, in the wide blind eyed acceptance of them, because they minimize the plight and the day to day struggle of the family and child with Autism. No amount of “better testing or a new class of diagnosing” could explain these numbers and when you meet an Autistic child, or have one yourself, you see that it is real. A very real thing. And it is coming to a neighborhood, a family member, and a crib near you. If you’ve not experienced it closely, I promise you that if it continues as it is going, faster than pediatric cancers, diabetes, and aids combined, you surely will.
People carry an idea of Autism in their minds. The actual functional show of Autism is probably not what they at all expect it to be. It certainly is not what I thought it was either. We gain these ideas from movies such as Rain Man and other media produced images that show either the “special” side or the “awful side” of Autism. Rain Man is about an Autistic Savant. This is a psychological phenomenon that can occur in about 10% of all people who have Autism. This is an area of genius in some area such as music, numbers, memorization, or visual-spatial mastery. But, it is rare and not as common as the wild success and popularity of that movie may have led us to believe.
Over the years I have seen many investigative reports, medically based and sound from highly credible media sources putting out hour-long specials on the “devastating side” of Autism. The news media too has jumped on our new numbers and has added their voice to the hysteria. Many people who’ve no direct experience with the disorder have visions of children biting, clawing, staring off into space, body rocking in a corner, locked inside of themselves hopelessly with no love to give to another. These images are locked firmly in the minds of countless faces in our public.