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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to many different conditions characterized by challenges with such things as social skills, repetitive behaviors, verbal and nonverbal communication, and unique strengths and differences. There are many different types of autism and it is a lifelong condition that spans all socioeconomic level. Autism is caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.
The clinical features that are essential in the diagnosis of autism is the impairment in social communication/interaction, and the restrictive repetitive patterns of behavior. Features such as aloneness, stereotypical behavior, and language/communication problems are associated with autism spectrum disorder. Children diagnosed with ASD may also be mute. If some language is present, they may be characterized by peculiar usage i.e. parroting what they heard in a high pitched tone, using “he” instead of “I”, using words that have meaning only to those who know the child, and the tendency to raise their voice at the end of sentences. Children with ASD may not engage in eye contact or display any expressions. Although unresponsive, these children are capable of showing strong negative emotions i.e. anger sadness and fear. A primary feature of ASD is the repeated stereotyped movements such as: twirling, flapping the hands or rocking back and forth. Some children with ASD may be self injurious even as they cry out in pain. These children exhibit self injurious behaviour by banging their heads, slapping their faces, biting their arms, or pulling their own hair. These children may also have frequent meltdowns. Consistency is important when it comes to children with ASD. Children with ASD may insist on having the same food everyday and are bound by ritual. Children who develop ASD appear to have failed to develop a differentiated sense of self. Despite their unusual behaviour, children with ASD may be high functioning. However, their intellectual development tends to lag below the norm. Children who function at an average level of intelligence still show difficulty in activities that require symbolism i.e. recognizing emotions, engaging in symbolic play, and problem solving. Individuals with ASD also display difficulty in attending to tasks that involve interacting with other people.
Early views of autism spectrum disorder focused on pathological family relationships. It was suggested that children with the disorder were raised by cold, detached parents. It was believed that the parents raised the child in an emotionally and socially miserable atmosphere in which the child’s efforts to develop language and social skills were not met. The child gives up on the efforts to develop mastery over the external world and withdraws. The pathological insistence on keeping things the same represents the child’s defensive efforts to maintain order and predictability. Although it was not confirmed that parents of children with ASD are cold, there is truth to the notion that children with ASDr and their parents do not relate to one another very well. Instead of rejecting their children, parents may grow somewhat tired because their efforts to relate to their children usually end in failure. Children with ASD have some difficulties that limit them to processing only one stimulus at a time. From the learning theory perspective, children become attached to their primary caregivers because they are associated with primary reinforcers. Children with ASD attend either to the food or to the cuddling and do not connect it with the parent.
From the Cognitive theory perspective children with ASD appear to have difficulty integrating information from various senses. There may be times where the children may seem hypersensitive to stimulation. At other times they are so insensitive that an observer might wonder whether they are deaf. Cognitive issues seem to negatively affect their capacity to make use of information i.e. to understand and apply social rules. This may impede the theory of mind. Theory of mind is the ability to appreciate that other people have a mental state that is different from our own. Children with ASD show difficulty in their ability to infer the beliefs, and emotions of others. Many impairments associated with ASD, i.e. intellectual disability, communications deficits, repetitive bizarre motor behaviour, and even seizures, suggest an underlying neurobiological basis. MRI scans show that children with autism spectrum disorder have a period of overgrowth of brain size early in postnatal development. This period is followed by significantly slowed growth resulting in a brain volume smaller than average for children aged 5 to 16. There is substantial support for the suggestion that genetics plays a significant role in the neurodevelopment of children with autism spectrum disorder, with susceptible genes on chromosomes 2 and 7 in particular. Multiple genes may be involved, and they interact with other factors i.e. environmental or biological. The cause of ASD remains unknown, and some recent controversial ideas are being examined. Some ideas point to the overload of hormones, the immune system, and viruses.
There is no cure for ASD, however, treatment programs have yielded the best results. Treatments that focus on behaviour, education and communication deficits are highly intensive and structured. These treatments offer a great deal of individual Psychological intervention programs are effective for many children with ASD, but early intervention is key. Research continues to support the necessity of early intervention programs; the more intense or comprehensive the therapy, the better it is in terms of helping children improve social and communication skills. Biological approaches have had limited impact in the treatment of ASD. One line of research has focused on drugs normally used to treat schizophrenia, i.e. Haldol, can be helpful in many cases for example reducing social withdrawal and repetitive motor behaviour, aggression, hyperactivity, and self-injurious behaviour. We have not seen drugs lead to consistent improvement in cognitive and language development in ASD. Some children with ASD go on to achieve college and university degrees and are able to function independently. however, Others need continuing treatment throughout their lives, even institutionalized care. High-functioning adults with ASD manifest deficient social and communication skills.
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