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Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome

Autism and Asperger’s syndrome are both part of a range of related developmental disorders known as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). They begin in childhood — usually before age 3 and last through adulthood.

Autistic spectrum disorders affect the way a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. Many (but not all) people with an autistic spectrum disorder also have a learning disability. People with autistic spectrum disorders usually need specialist care and education.

Early diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder is important, because detection leads to treatment, and with early treatment, a child with autism can gain improved language and social skills.

What causes autism?

Autism has no single, known cause. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. Research suggests that the development of autism is rooted in very early brain development. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be affected.

There are probably many causes of autism and both genetics and environment are thought to play a role. Some genes may make a child more susceptible to autism and certain environmental factors such as viral infections, induced labour, complications during pregnancy and air pollutants are thought to play a role in triggering autism.

Symptoms

According to the Autism Speaks website, the following “red flags” may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, please don’t delay in asking your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

 Treatment

There is no cure for ASD. Most children diagnosed with autism are being treated by specialists. Treatment may involve; speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and educational psychologists.

The types of treatments often provided include the following:

  • Special education support to help with language, social and communication skills
  • Behavioural therapy which may help reduce ‘bad’ behaviours and promote ‘good’ behaviours
  • Medication may be considered to help with specific ASD-related symptoms e.g. anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, outbursts of excitement or aggression, sleep or repetitive behaviours etc.

It is thought that the earlier the specialist input is started, the better the outcome.

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