Tag Archives: Forms Of Autism

Question?: Pdd Autism

Mary asks…

Can you tell me about the medical condition Autism?

why do mostly boys get autism? can it become better as the child grows? can people with autism live normal lives when they grow up?

admin answers:

Hi there!

Autism is a spectrum, meaning that there are many “types” of autism, and the “severity” of the autistic traits can vary, from one individual to another. It’s considered a “disability” by the ADA, however, many people who have higher-functioning forms of autism feel that they do not have a disability, but are actually what’s called neurologically diverse. Aspergers is one form of autism which is actually a lot more common than one would think! Autism is not something which “goes away”, although certain characteristics can be managed more effectively with time. When a person “finds a way” to adapt to a shortcoming, the new way of dealing with that is called an “adaptive behavior.” There are also maladaptive behaviors. This is when a person comes up with a not-so-great way to adapt. Ii guess you could say it’s like a “defense mechanism” in some ways.

Boys have been diagnosed more frequently with autism in the past, although it has been found that girls “really can have autism”! For instance, I have Aspergers, which is on the spectrum, but most people who meet me have no idea. Boys have more “classic” behaviors than girls do, although in my opinion, this is because of many gender differences. You may have noticed that some more “assertive” women in the public eye are suspected (or do have) Aspergers. I think this is because their personality enables the manifestation of more “typical” behaviors. (Think: Madonna and Sharon Stone. Strong women.)

People with autism (especially the higher-functioning forms, such as HFA, PDD, and Aspergers) CAN have normal lives. Of course, if they have the opportunity for guidance when they are younger, they develop more adaptive (and fewer maladaptive) behaviors, so they fit into society generally well. Many people with AU (that’s the abbreviation for autism) follow their interests vocationally, and can be very successful in those things which they find interesting. When people with AU are creative, for instance, being in a creative field is ideal, because many creative people are individualistic.

A note about the higher end of the spectrum… A diagnostic criteria for Aspergers (for instance) is that that cognitive ability must not be dimished. (This is one reason why they give IQ tests when diagnosing.) So if you look at a group of people with Aspergers, you are 100% certain that they are all at least of average cognitive ability. You can’t say the same for the rest of the population. By definition, average intelligence is average because half is above, and half is below.) The point I’m making is that if you know someone with Aspergers, (a child, familiy member, someone at work) you can be sure that they are intelligent. This helps people who don’t have AU to give some additional credibility to ideas or suggestions. (People who don’t have AU are sometimes called “neurotypical”, or NT, when we talk about people with and without autism.)

People with autism and Aspergers are actually a wonderful societal resource. There can at times be stigma around those with Aspergers, when people don’t understand the little things that they do.

An example: Most people with Aspergers (AS) have some sort of uber-developed sense. For instance, hearing. (My Aspie son has said, “Mom, I can hear things very distinctly!”) For a person with AU who needs to concentrate, something like cubes being built in the same room, or a woodpecker outside the window can be a little distracting. A person with AS may request that they complete their task in a better setting until the cubes are built. In an office where they are not as accepting of neurological diversity, this could be falsely seen as “elitist” or something similar. It’s not, of course, it’s what that person temporarily needs in order to do the best work on the expected task. There are laws in place to prevent discrimination, although Aspergers in the workplace is one area that is a little behind-the-times with regard to diversity training…! These days, companies which have a high probability for Aspergers employees (like computer companies, engineering firms, architects, accounting, etc…) are seeking diversity training so that the company can benefit from a productively symbiotic relationship between Aspies and NTs.

Anyway, This might be a little more info than you were looking for, but I hope it’s helpful. (Explaining how to “build a watch” is a typical AS trait, and one I am actively striving to improve! 🙂

Feel free to ask more questions if you are interested. I have some of my sites listed if you would like to learn more.

Lorin Neikirk

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Question?: Autistic Definition

Ruth asks…

What are some good things to do with autistic kids?

My cuz is autistic and I ned to find done good ways to play with him. can you help me?

admin answers:

There are different forms of autism, and different levels of disability across the whole spectrum. About 40% of all people on the spectrum have intellectual disabilities as well, this is a lot higher for people with Autistic disorder but people with Asperger’s syndrome, by definition, are in the normal range. Some people have no speech, whilst others have minor idiosyncrasies (or no abnormalities). The vast majority have sensory problems, but this varies greatly as well.

You didn’t mention how old he is either, it would obviously be inappropriate to read a Teletubbies book to an intellectually normal, high functioning 15 year old.

If the individual is high functioning, then an age appropriate activity (tailored around an interest) would be fine.

If the individual is low functioning, then you could watch a favorite TV show with them. Even with low functioning individuals, there are some with no communicative abilities or ability to interact with others, if your cousin is this severe then there is little playing you would be able to do with him. With individuals with some speech, a simple, repetitive card game (such as happy families) would be good.

There is a strong possibility that he has a specific interest, reading a book about this (be it horses or lawnmowers) with him would probably be a good way of entertaining him.

Also, try going to the park. Unless he is very severe then this would be good for anyone. Every child likes going to the park and insomnia and ADHD like behaviors are very common amongst individuals on the spectrum, some exercise will help with this a lot.

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Question?: What Is Autism Yahoo

Robert asks…

How much is stem cell treatment for autism?

How much does adult stem cell therapy cost? And where can i go to receive it? I have autism/Asperger’s, and i am not really sure if adult stem cell therapy is able to treat Asperger’s, even though it has been used to treat more severe forms of autism.

admin answers:

I think you need heavy metal chelation, which is a lot healthier and cheaper than stem cell therapy.

Most (75%) of ASDs are mercury poisoned. Here’s a group of adults who do low dose chelation:

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/frequent-dose-chelation/

Good luck.

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Question?: Autism Signs 2 Year Old

Steven asks…

when did you notice one of your kids had autism?

what were the signs?

We just found out that my daughter’s cousin from her father’s side has autism. And I know they say that you have to wait until children are 2 years old so that they can get diagnosed, but can you see any signs before then?

admin answers:

We first suspected something when are son was around the age of 2, he had some odd behaviors at an earlier age but it really didn’t “stick out” like it did when he was the around the age of 2. Even after some of these odd behaviors became more profound around 2 and he had delays in langauge and some other areas, we thought he was just “slow”, developing at his own pace and would “catch” up, since each person developes at different paces. We had heard of autism but we had absolutely no knowledge about autism itself from the characteristics to the different forms, etc. We seen a show on tv about the characteristics of autism when he was about 2yrs. 8 mos. Give/take a bit, and wouldn’t you know it was like they were describing our son. So we began to learn as much as we could about autism and after doing tons of research, we knew/flet it in our hearts/guts he had autistic disorder. He began his evaluation for autism 2 days after turning 3 and was diagnosed with autistic disorder 1 month later. What we did realize is that during our research and his evaluation he was actually showing some signs at a much earlier age but we had no idea. Had we had actual knowledge about autism and not just heard of it, I honestly believe we would of noticed some of the signs much sooner rather than thinking he was just slow and would catch up and therefore would of had him evaluated much sooner than we did.
I really think it depends on each individual as to when you begin to notice any signs, there are different forms of autism and each form can show signs at various ages, some beginning as young as 5 months, some not until after 2 yrs but before the age of 10 yrs..If you look at this link about the different forms: http://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_whatis_PDD you’ll see that each has it’s own specific criteria for a diagnosis and some of the criteria for a diagnosis depends on what age they were when these signs developed, so it is very possible to be diagnosed before 2yrs, around 2 yrs, or later than 2 yrs, again depending on which form of autism they may have. Then there are what they call “related disorders” in which some of these disorders have similar characteristics and some of these disorders share some of the same characteristics of autism (related disorders: http://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_whatis_related ). Some of these disorders can co-exist with the autism itself, eg my son has sensory integration disorder which is not on the “related disorders” list, along with his autistic disorder, if you look into the characteristics of both disorders many of the charcteristics/behaviors are shared by both of these disorders. An accurate diagnosis should be based on observation of the individual’s communication, behavior and developmental levels. This is to a list of the basic characteristics of autism: http://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_whatis_char
You have to keep in mind that the characteristics affect each person differently and can be anywhere from mild to severe. You can have 2 people with the exact same characteristics at the same severity level and they’ll act completely different from each other. When you look at the forms, for example autistic disorder aka classic autism is considered the severest form while pdd-nos (pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified) aka atypical autism is the mildest form…even if they have the mildest form it still can range from mild to severe.

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Question?: Autism Signs And Symptoms

Robert asks…

What is Autism and what are the signs/symptoms?

I’m trying to understand Autism a little more. I don’t know anyone personally with it, just wondering if someone could describe it in simple terms. I’ve had people tell me they “know what it is” but cant really describe it.

admin answers:

Autism affects each person on an individual basis, so the symptoms are unique to each individual, they can be in any combination and range anywhere from mild to severe. There are also different forms of autism each ranging from mild to severe. There are other conditions that can co-exist with the autism, other conditions that have similiar symptoms, and some condtions that share some symptoms of autism. The link below has information about each form of autism including characteristics, diagnosing, etc and has information about other conditions that can co-exist with the autism, other conditions that have similiar symptoms, and some condtions that share some symptoms of autism.

You’re basic symptoms are: http://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_whatis_char

Insistence on sameness; resistance to change

Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or pointing instead of words

Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language (echolalia)

Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason showing distress for reasons not apparent to others

Preference to being alone; aloof manner

Tantrums

Difficulty in mixing with others

Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled

Little or no eye contact

Unresponsive to normal teaching methods

Sustained odd play

Spinning objects

Obsessive attachment to objects

Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain which ties into Sensory Integration- any of their senses can be over or under sensitive

No real fears of danger

Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity

Uneven gross/fine motor skills

Non responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf, although hearing tests in normal range

Aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior

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It really depends on the individual because autism affects each person differently regardless of what form they have.
Here’s some basic/general things that may help you have a better understanding of autism and how it affects an individual, but again it depends on the individual as how they are affected.

Many have receptive and expressive language disorder so it is best to speak directly to them in plain words and it’s good to speak to them at eye level for example if it is a child.

They interpret language very literally, e.g. If you said ‘that’ll be a piece of cake’ in meaning it will be easy, they would look for the actual piece of cake. Idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres, inference, metaphors, allusions and sarcasm can and will confuse them.

Many have limited vocabulary, sometimes they don’t know what words to use to let someone know they need something or the words in order to describe something which can lead to body language, withdrawal, agitation or other signs that something is wrong.

Many have echolalia, which is saying words or phrases that come from books, people, tv, etc. Over and over again..they may say it but they don’t necessarily understand what they are saying.

Many are very visually oriented, sometimes it is best to show them as well as telling them, and to show them several times, they learn best by consistant repetition. Like for a child a visual schedule helps them through the transistions of their day.

They have trouble with social interactions, most don’t know how to “read” facial expressions, body language or the emotions of others. For a child, structured play activities that have a clear beginning and end are best. Sometimes they don’t know how to start a conversation or enter a play situation.

Many have sensory issues, everyday lights, sounds, odors, tastes, and textures can be very uncomfortable to them and give them a sensory overload; e.g. Certain lights can hurt their eyes, noises can hurt their ears, sweet odors to us can smell awful to them, sweet tasting stuff to us can taste awful to them, something soft to touch can be painful to them to touch. They can also have under sensivity, for example, some have self-injurious behavior, they don’t realize what they are doing should hurt because they can’t feel the pain like we do, or they may be able to tolerate much higher pitched noises than we can because they don’t hear they full volume of the noise as we do.

Meltdowns, blow-ups, tantrums: All their behavior usually a form of communication that they simply don;t know how to communicate as we do. They can occur because one or more of their senses has gone into overload; they are frustrated; etc.. Many things can play into their behavior.

Some must be comfortable around you before they will socialize with you or have contact with you, e.g. When my son began behavioral therapy he didn’t want anything to do with the therapist, didn’t want to be near her or touched by her, after seeing her for a about a month (he seen her 1x a week for a hour) he would socialize with her and would sit on her lap, give her hugs, etc. In a sense, it’s like they have to learn to trust you first.

They usually are very honest and to the point; don’t care about the superficial crap in life and so on.

I also suggest reading a couple of excerpts from books by Ellen Notbohm, one is titled Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew http://graphicpieces.com/autism10thingschild.html , & Ten Things Your Student With Autism Wishes You Knew http://graphicpieces.com/autism10thingsstudent.html , they will give you some basic insight about autism and how it can affect someone and give you a better understanding of autism from their perspective.

I want to state one thing that I don’t feel is totally true, someone stated that people with autism tend to focus on one area, or say excel in one area and yes that is very true in many cases with autism but not with all, some do excel in more areas than one and I say this because my son is one of those who do excel in more than one area.. And some don’t excel in any particular area at all and I feel that is one of the many misunderstandings of autism.

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Question?: Treatment For Autism

Susan asks…

Could I have autism and never been diagnosed?

I was reading about autism and I was looking at the symptoms of autism. I read them and then suddenly realized that I had a majority of the symptoms that were listed. Should I ask my doctor about this? What are medications that are successful in the treatment of autism.

admin answers:

It is possible that you are undiagnosed. Many people with mild forms of autism are diagnosed late or even never.

It’s not a good idea to self-diagnose though. If you think you might have it, go see a doctor to find out for sure. It’s not enough to have some of the symptoms, the symptoms must also be severe enough and there are certain symptoms that you must have while other symptoms are not always present. It’s also necessary to rule out other diagnoses.

Medication is not always appropriate treatment for autism. Medication can help some people with certain symptoms, but in other cases no medication is useful or necessary. Therapy often helps though.

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Defective Carnitine Metabolism May Play Role In Autism

Main Category: Autism
Also Included In: Genetics
Article Date: 08 May 2012 – 2:00 PDT Current ratings for:
‘Defective Carnitine Metabolism May Play Role In Autism’
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The deletion of part of a gene that plays a role in the synthesis of carnitine – an amino acid derivative that helps the body use fat for energy – may play a role in milder forms of autism, said a group of researchers led by those at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

“This is a novel inborn error of metabolism,” said Dr. Arthur Beaudet, chair of molecular and human genetics at BCM and a physician at Texas Children’s Hospital, and the senior author of the report that appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.* “How it is associated with the causes of autism is as yet unclear. However, it could point to a means of treatment or even prevention in some patients.”

Beaudet and his international group of collaborators believe the gene deletion leads to an imbalance in carnitine in the body. Meat eaters receive about 75 percent of their carnitine from their diet. However, dietary carnitine levels are low in vegetarians and particularly in vegans. In most people, levels of carnitine are balanced by the body’s ability to manufacture its own carnitine in the liver, kidney and brain, starting with a modified form of the amino acid lysine.

Carnitine deficiency has been identified when not enough is absorbed through the diet or because of medical treatments such as kidney dialysis. Genetic forms of carnitine deficiency also exist, which are caused when too much carnitine is excreted through the kidneys.

In this new inborn error, there is a deletion in the second exon – the protein-coding portion of a gene – of the TMLHE gene, which includes the genetic code for the first enzyme in the synthesis of carnitine (TMLHE stands for trimethyllysine epsilon which encodes the enzyme trimethyllysine dioxygenase).

Studies in the laboratory that identified the deletion were led by Dr. Patricia B.S. Celestino-Soper, as a graduate student in Beaudet’s laboratory at BCM and by Dr. Sara Violante, a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Frédéric M. Vaz of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam.

To determine the frequency of the gene deletion, Beaudet and his colleagues tested male autism patients who were the only people with the disorder in their families (simplex families) from the Simons Simplex Collection, the South Carolina Early Autism Project and Houston families. In collaboration with laboratories and researchers in Nashville, Los Angeles, Paris, New York, Toronto and Cambridge (United Kingdom), they tested affected male siblings in families with more than one male case of autism (multiplex families).

When they looked at the TMLHE genes in males affected by autism and compared them to normal controls, they found that the gene alteration is a fairly common one, occurring in as many as one in 366 males unaffected by autism. It was not significantly more common in males within families in which there is only one person with autism. However, it is nearly three times more common in families with two or more boys with autism.

Beaudet said most of the affected males with the deletion did not have syndromic autism that is frequently associated with other serious diseases. In many instances, syndromic autism affects physical development as well as cognitive, which is reflected in their facial features as well as other parts of their bodies. None of the six boys affected with autism (where information was available) had the syndromic form of disease. Their intelligence quotients and cognitive scores varied, with some being far below normal and others normal.

“Most of the males we identified with the TMLHE deficiency were apparently normal as adults,” said Beaudet, although detailed information on learning and behavior was not available on these “control” males. “The gene deletion is neither necessary nor sufficient in itself to cause autism.”

“TMLHE deficiency itself is likely to be a weak risk factor for autism, but we need to do more studies to replicate our results,” Beaudet said. He estimated that at the rates found in his study, the deficiency might be a factor in about 170 males born with autism per year in the United States. This would equate to about one-half of one percent of autism cases.

The authors from Amsterdam found major increases in some carnitine-related chemicals and absence of others in both urine and plasma. These metabolic alterations were found to be predictive of the dysfunction of the TMLHE gene and therefore can be used to identify males with this disorder

It remains uncertain whether TMLHE deficiency is benign or causes autism by affecting the function of neurons through toxic accumulation or deficiency of a variety of chemical metabolites.

“We believe that the most attractive hypothesis at this time is that the increased risk of autism is modified by dietary intake of carnitine from birth through the first few years of life,” said Beaudet.

He and his colleagues are undertaking three studies to further their understanding of the TMLHE deficiency. In one, they will attempt to replicate the findings in multiplex families. In a second, they will study carnitine levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of infants with autism – both those who have the gene deficiency and those who do not. In a third study, they plan to begin giving boys under age 5 with autism carnitine or a related supplement and determine whether this improves the behavior of those with the TMLHE deficiency and those without.

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release. Click ‘references’ tab above for source.
Visit our autism section for the latest news on this subject. * http://www.pnas.org
Others who took part in this work include Bekim Sadikovic, Kwanghyuk Lee, Charlene Lo, Richard E. Person, Timothy J. Moss, Jennifer R. German, Marwan Shinawi, Diane Treadwell-Deering, Chad A. Shaw, Suzanne M. Leal and Robin P. Goin-Kochel all of BCM and Texas Children’s Hospital; Emily L. Crawford and James S. Sutcliffe of Vanderbilt University; Rui Luo, Kun Gao and Daniel Geschwind of the David Geffen School of the Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles; Anath C. Lionel, Wendy Roberts, and Stephen W. Scherer of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto; Elsa Delaby and Catalina Betancur of the University of Paris; Guiqing Cai and Joseph D. Buxbaum of Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Ni Huang and Matthew E. Hurles of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; Peter Szatmari of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario; Bridget Fernandez of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland; Richard J. Schroer and Roger E. Stevenson of Greenwood Genetic Center; Stephan J. Sanders of Yale University School of Medicine; Edwin H. Cook of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Ronald J.A. Wanders and Frédéric M. Vaz of the University of Amsterdam.
Funding for this work came from the the Simons Foundation, Autism Speaks, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia and the Wellcome Trust.
Beaudet is the Henry and Emma Meyer Chair in Molecular Genetics. He is also a professor of pediatrics and molecular and cellular biology as well as the Program in Cell and Molecular Biology.
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Diagnosing Autism

Autistic children are often analyzed with their state by or approximately age three. Though there may be instances when a parent is aware that there is something going on when the child is at a young age, higher functioning forms of autism are often harder to spot. Warning signs vary from child to child. There are a few signs that all children with autism will have, however, and when these are present, a trip to the doctor for help would be warranted. Some cases can be caught very early. No matter how difficult or how subtle the signs to a doctor diagnosing autism will look for every known issue.

Classic Autism, commonly called Autism, is also sometimes called Kanner’s Syndrome after the Psychiatrist Leo Kanner. He studied 11 children at John Hopkins University from 1932 to 1943. He wrote about the common elements found in these children including a lack of emotion, repetitive actions, and problems with their speech formation, their ability to manipulate various objects, learning difficulties, and their levels of intelligence. His studies lead to many others wanting to learn more about the disorder.

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Asperger’s Syndrome is named after its founder, Hans Asperger. His studies took place in Vienna in 1944. He discovered many individuals had the problems with social skills and repetitive patterns but they did not have trouble with learning or their cognitive abilities. They also portrayed some very exceptional talents or abilities that were considered to be very remarkable. Albert Einstein is a very famous individual who had Asperger’s Syndrome.

Dr. Andrease Rett documented what is known As Rett’s Syndrome while in Australia in 1965. This is classified as a neuro developmental degenerative disorder. It only affects girls and the degeneration results in them being completely dependent on others for all of their needs. They have some of the symptoms of Autism but they also suffer from muscle lose. Girls with Rett’s Syndrome often have very small hands and feet.

When it comes to ABA therapy, school employees will quickly learn that the method is by far the most effective treatment for all degrees of autism spectrum disorder. Another benefit to schools is the availability of training programs and classroom materials that will enable teachers to learn within the school, eliminating the need for costly travel and conferences. While students are always worth an investment, it is a sad reality that many schools lack the proper funding for such travel.

ABA therapy offers great benefit to teachers and school employees and allows professionals to teach children in a way that truly helps them learn. ABA therapy uses repetitive trials to teach children with an autism spectrum disorder to literally change the way they think. While most students inherently have the ability to infer meanings and concepts through observation, students with autism lack this innate ability. The good news, however, is that through repetition and diligent teaching, the synapses within their brains can literally be rewired so that they are able to think much like other students.

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A New Approach to Treatment for Some Forms of Autism

 

What do we mean when we say autism is a ‘spectrum disorder?’

When the term, ‘spectrum disorder’ is used it means that there are a range of symptoms, which can be attributed to autism. Any one individual may display any combination of these symptoms, in differing degrees of severity. Therefore an individual at one end of the autistic spectrum may seem very different to an individual at the other end of the spectrum.

Who first discovered autism?

Autism was first recognised in the mid 1940’s by a psychiatrist called Leo Kanner. He described a group of children, whom he was treating, who presented with some very unusual symptoms such as; – atypical social development, irregular development of communication and language, and recurring / repetitive and obsessional behaviour with aversion to novelty and refusal to accept change. His first thoughts were that they were suffering some sort of childhood psychiatric disorder.

At around the same time that Kanner was grappling with the problems of these children, a German scientist, Hans Asperger was caring for a group of children whose behaviour also seemed irregular. Asperger suggested that these children were suffering from what he termed ‘autistic psychopathy.’ These children experienced remarkably similar symptoms to the children described by Kanner, with a single exception. – Their language development was normal! There is still an ongoing debate as to whether autism and Asperger’s syndrome are separable conditions, or whether Asperger’s syndrome is merely a mild form of autism.

What is the cause of autism?

In the 1960s and 1970s there arose a theory that autism was caused by abnormal family relationships. This led on to the ‘refrigerator mother’ theory, which claimed that autism in the child was caused by cold, emotionless mothers! (Bettleheim, 1967). However the weight of evidence quickly put this theory to bed as evidence was found to support the idea that the real cause was to be found in abnormalities in the brain. This evidence was quickly followed by findings, which clearly demonstrated that the EEG’s of children with autism were, in many cases, atypical and the fact that a large proportion of children also suffered from epilepsy.

From this time, autism has been looked upon as a disorder, which develops as a consequence of abnormal brain development. Recently, evidence has shown that in some cases, the abnormal brain development may be caused by specific genes.

However, we should not forget that genes can only express themselves if the appropriate environmental conditions exist for them to do so and so, we should not rule out additional, environmental causes for autism. We should not forget that autism can also be caused by brain-injury, that an insult to the brain can produce the same effects as can abnormal development of the brain, which may have been caused by genetic and other environmental factors. I have seen too many children who have suffered oxygen starvation at birth, who have gone on to display symptoms of autism. So, it is my view that autism can also be caused by brain-injury.

There are also other possibilities, which can ultimately produce the type of brain dysfunction, which we recognise as autism. There is a great deal of research being carried out at the moment in the area of ‘oxidative stress’ and methylation and it’s effects upon the integrity of neural networks. There is also the debate surrounding mercury levels in vaccines, which is as of yet, unresolved.

The fact is that ‘many roads lead to Rome.’ – There are likely to be several factors both genetic and environmental, which can ultimately lead to the type of brain dysfunction, which we call autism.

 

So, how do we recognise autism?

On a descriptive level, autism involves a dysfunction of the brain’s systems, which control communication, socialisation, imagination and sensory perception. My theory is that it is the distortions of sensory perception, which are so characteristic of autism, which exacerbates many (but not all) of the other difficulties. Imagine a child suffering from autism who suffers distortions of sensory perception. For instance, the child who suffers distortions of visual perception, might find situations which require eye -contact to be exceptionally threatening, or on the other end of the scale might become obsessive about specific visual stimuli. The child who suffers distortions of tactile perception, might at one end of the spectrum find any situation which requires physical contact to be terrifying, whilst at the other end of the spectrum, they might be a ‘sensation seeker’ to the point of becoming self -injurious. The child who suffers distortions of auditory perception might at one end of the spectrum, be terrified of sounds of a certain pitch or intensity, whereas at the other end of the spectrum, they might actively seek out, or become obsessive about certain sounds.

 

Treatment

The question is, what can we do to help redress these distortions of sensory perception. Well, we believe we can learn from the newborn baby. When baby is born, he sleeps for most of the time, only spending short periods of time interacting with this new environment in which he finds himself; – a new environment which bombards his senses with new sights, noises and smells. So he retreats into the safe, calm environment of sleep, which provides the sensory safe haven which up until recently was the sanctuary of the womb. Very gradually, as baby adjusts his sensory system to his new environment, he spends more and more time in the waking world, interacting and learning to communicate, – but he adjusts very gradually!

There is possibly a neurological explanation for this. There are structures within the brain, which act to ‘tune’ sensory attention. These three structures, which allow us to tune our attention are structures, which enables us to ‘tune out’ background interference when we wish to selectively attend to something in particular. They also enables us to ‘tune in’ to another stimulus when we are attending to something completely different. They are the same mechanisms of the brain, which allows us to listen to what our friend is saying to us, even when we are standing in the midst of heavy traffic on a busy road. It is these mechanisms that allow us, even though we are in conversation in a crowded room, to hear our name being spoken by someone else across that room. It is these mechanisms, which allow a mother to sleep though various loud, night-time noises such as her husband snoring, or an aeroplane passing overhead and yet the instant her new baby stirs, she is woken. It is a remarkable feature of the human brain and it is the responsibility of three structures operating cooperatively; – these are the ascending reticular activating formation, the thalamus and the limbic system.

Having made such a bold claim, allow me to furnish you with the evidence to support it. The three structures just mentioned receive sensory information from the sense organs and relay the information to specific areas of the cortex. The thalamus in particular is responsible for controlling the general excitability of the cortex (whether that excitability tunes the cortex up to be overexcited, tunes it down to be under excited, or tunes it inwardly to selectively attend to it’s own internal sensory world.) (Carlson, 2007). The performance of these neurological structures, or in the case of our children, their distorted performance seems to be at the root of the sensory problems faced not only by newborn babies, but the sensory difficulties our children face and yes, as the newborn shows, their performance CAN be influenced, – they can be re-tuned.

I believe the sensory system of some children with autism is experiencing similar difficulties to that of a newborn, – at one end of the autistic spectrum, the cortex is being over-excited by these structures and the person is overwhelmed and has difficulty accommodating the mass of sensory stimulation within the environment. At the other end of the autistic spectrum, the cortex is being under-excited and the person has trouble in perceiving sensory stimulation from the environment. The question is; – How do we facilitate the re-tuning of this neurological system in individuals who have autism

The newborn retreats into sleep, a self imposed dampening of incoming sensory information. Whilst the child with autism does not do this, many children with autism attempt to withdraw from their environment because they find it so threatening.

We believe at Snowdrop that for the child at the end of the autistic spectrum who is suffering an amplification of sensory stimulation, we should create a setting where he can retreat from a world, which is overwhelming his immature sensory system. This ‘adapted environment,’ which should be as free as possible from all visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory stimulation will serve as a milieu where his sensory system can re-tune itself. Of course it may just be a single sense like vision, or hearing, or tactility, or any combination of senses, which are causing the difficulties and the environment may be adapted appropriately. The child suffering these difficulties will usually welcome this adapted environment, which is in effect a ‘safe haven’ for his immature sensory system. He should be given free access to, or placed within the adapted environment as needed and you will notice hopefully that he will relax and begin to enjoy being within its safe confines, where there are no sensory surprises.

This procedure should be continued for as long as necessary, – for several weeks or months. Indeed, some children might always need periods of time within the ‘safe haven.’ As the child begins to accept and be at ease in his safe haven, stimulation in whatever sensory modality is causing the difficulties, should begin to be introduced at a very low level, so low in fact that it is hardly noticeable. If the child tolerates this, then it can be used more frequently until it becomes an accepted part of the sensory environment. If the child reacts negatively in any way, then the stimulus is withdrawn and reintroduced at a later date. In this way, we can very gradually begin to build the level of tolerance, which the child has towards the stimulus.

For the child at the other end of the autistic spectrum, the child whose sensory attentional system is not exciting the cortex enough, with the consequence that he is not noticing enough of the stimulation in his sensory environment, the approach needs to be the exact opposite. These are the children who we see producing self-stimulatory behaviour. I believe that this behaviour is an attempt by the nervous system to provide itself with what it needs from the environment, – a sensory message of greater intensity! We see many children with autism ‘flapping’ their hands in front of their eyes, or becoming visually obsessed by certain toys, movements, colours etc. I propose that this is a reaction by the nervous system to attempt to increase the intensity, frequency and duration of the sensory stimulus due to a problem with perceiving visual stimuli from the environment.

Of course, children with autism display a far greater range of difficulties than a theory, focused upon a malfunctioning sensory – attentional system could explain. I am not attempting to claim that sensory problems on their own are an adequate explanation for every facet of autism, – that would be ridiculous! This is merely a possible explanation of a range of issues experienced by some children who have autism, which could be produced or exacerbated by the child suffering distortions of sensory perception. For instance, the following symptoms within the autistic spectrum could possibly be explained at the sensory level.

Failure to make eye contact.

Difficulty in sharing attention with anyone.

Avoiding interaction with others

Avoiding physical contact

Seeming disconnected from the environment.

Appearing not to notice anything visually.

Visual distraction, as though the child is looking at something which you cannot see.

Visual obsession with particular features of the environment.

Inability to ‘switch’ visual attention from one feature of the environment to another.

General discomfort with the visual environment.

Appearing not to hear anything.

Auditory distraction, as though listening to something which you cannot hear.

Auditory obsession with particular sounds within the environment.

Inability to ‘switch’ auditory attention from one sound within the environment to another.

Inability to ‘tune out’ extraneous sounds in the environment.

General discomfort with the auditory environment.

Appearing not to feel much sensation.

Appearing to bee distracted by tactile stimuli of which you are not aware.

Obsession with particular tactile sensations within the environment.

Appears unable to ‘switch’ tactile attention from one sensation to another.

General discomfort with the tactile environment.

Difficulty in communicating with others.

 

 

 

We believe at Snowdrop, that our sensory re-tuning environments offer the best chance for children to overcome such distortions of sensory perception.

 


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