What is Autism?
Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder (immunological, gastro-intestinal and neurological dysfunction), resulting in developmental disability. It typically appears in the first two to three years of life.
Also known as a pervasive developmental or spectrum disorder, the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe.
Please click here to view a complimentary “What is Autism” eBook produced by The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.
Although autism is defined by the presence of a certain set of behaviors, it typically presents as the lack of communication, repetitive behavior and lack of socialization. Children and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviors in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.
- People with autism process and respond to information in unique ways
- In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present
- Forty percent of individuals with autism do not have speech
- They may have difficulty expressing their needs, using gestures, or pointing instead of words
- They may laugh or cry, showing distress for no reason apparent to others
- Persons with autism may be resistant to change
- Persons with autism often prefer to be alone
- They may display tantrums
- They often have difficulty interacting with others, especially their peers
- Children with autism may not want to cuddle or be cuddled. Imagine having a child who does not want you to hug him. Imagine a chilld who cannot spontaneously tells you that he loves you
- Persons with autism frequently make little or no eye contact
- Persons with autism may not respond to normal teaching methods, they may have odd play habits, and frequently spin objects
- Many have sensory integration issues-over or under sensitivity to pain
- They may not understand the need to fear danger
- Children with autism may often first appear to be deaf because they do not respond to verbal cues
In fact, the first diagnosis a child with autism receives is generally a speech or language delay.
Onset of Autism
There are certainly children who have symptoms of autism early. They have what can be called “classical autism.” There are, however, a number of children who begin growing normally and then acquire autism. It is sometimes called “atypical autism” or “late-onset” autism.
Treatment(s) of Autism
Currently there is no consensus on the treatment or causes.
However, there are a number of strategies that are employed to enhance the ability of the child to communicate with the world around them. The current strategies include behavioral intervention programs and biomedical strategies. The behavioral intervention programs include Applied Behavioral Analysis program, occupational, speech and physical therapies, among others. The biomedical strategies include dietary modification, nutritional supplementation, and pharmacological therapies (such as medications for psychiatric behaviors, gastrointestinal, immunological and neurological symptoms). While there is no consensus, the use of both the behavioral and biomedical intervention allows the restoration of body function of the child. There are a number of children who have lost their diagnosis as a result.
IMPACT ON THE FAMILY
Families have to deal with the issue of a diagnosis of autism. They are often told by the diagnosing physician that their child will not be normal again. The child will not be able to communicate and interact normally. This leads to depression and isolation.
Services are often inadequate or unavailable for the child. Parents often haave to struggle with school, insurance company, etc., to attain the necessary services for the child.
Because autism is NOT clearly defined as a medical illness but rather as a psychological issue, the child may have an underlying medical problem that is left undiagnosed because of their inability to communicate. Therefore, they exhibit behavioral problems that are often difficult to solve. These children will often present self-injurious behavior such as biting, hitting, and/or screaming. These behaviors can cause the family some dysfunction. Many parents are left stressed without any ability to cope. The end result is families left hopeless and without any outlet. We believe that without a strong faith in God and the hope that every child has a purpose many families fall apart.
The need for services for families to alleviate the stress is essential.
There are a number of strategies that can be employed. The primary plan is to provide the families with the message of hope. Some symptoms of Autism CAN be reversible… Or even curable.
For example, in the Christian faith, we believe that Jesus healed many people afflicted with all kinds of diseases. He healed the children who may be considered to have autism based on today’s standard. He spoke health into the lives of those he encountered. In the same way, these children today can be healed. However, God often requires us to activate our faith for the healing of our children by doing our part. That requires better diet, strengthening of the immune system against infection, and promoting good gastrointestinal health. When families strive to work together to find solutions for their child, they have a normal and victorious life. The family can work together to provide the child with the best of this world. The understanding of a solid and strong family is one key. The access to the necessary services and information is the other key.
MYTHS (AND FACTS) ABOUT AUTISM
Myth: Everyone with autism behaves the same way.
Fact: Autism affects 1 out of every 68 children in United States and 1 out of 49 children in the state of New Jersey. Some are affected with severe communication, social interaction, and daily living skill deficits and some are affected with only slight delays. Some engage in repetitive behaviors that may be self-injurious and some have mild repetitive behaviors.
Myth: Autism is caused by bad parenting.
Fact: Autism is diagnosed across a variety of households with different parenting styles from all races, creed and nations. Although the exact cause of autism is not known, autism is considered a syndrome regarded to be of neurobiological origin. Research has found people with autism to exhibit abnormally high amounts of heavy metals in their body.
Myth: A person with Autism is unable to feel emotions or develop any relationships.
Fact: A person with autism can express emotions, desires and needs.
Myth: Autism is untreatable.
Fact: There are several treatment strategies that may reduce many of the behaviors that people with autism exhibit and provide good quality of life. These include behavioral and biomedical interventions. The early identification and treatment is the key to restoration.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
ABA is a type of therapy that works in a systematic way to reduce unwanted behaviors and increase or teach wanted behaviors. ABA therapist work with only observable behaviors that can be measured.
For example, an ABA therapist may work on toilet training, eye contact, and reducing self-injurious behaviors such as head banging, biting, and eye poking. Usually, the child works directly with the therapist in a one-to-one situation. The child will receive rewards for desirable behavior and may be ignored for unwanted behaviors in order to work toward set goals. The primary care givers may also be taught how to work with their child to increase skills.
The focus of this therapy is to improve articulation (speech or how words are spoken).This could involve building tongue and lip muscles (oral-motor), vocal sounds, and swallowing.
The focus of this type of therapy is to improve both verbal and non-verbal communication. The therapist can work to increase how well a person understands what others are saying (receptive communication). For example, when you ask a child to follow a one-step command such as “give me the cup” or a two-step command “wash your hands and dry them.” The therapist can also work on teaching how to communicate so others understand your child’s wants and needs (expressive communication). This may involve teaching a child to move from one-word responses to three-word responses such as, “milk” to “I milk” to “I want milk.” The language pathologist can also teach children to gesture for things they want or need, improve facial expressions, and eye contact.
Note: Both speech and language therapy can be done by a licensed speech and language pathologist (SLP) in the school and/or home setting. If there are communication goals on the school Individual Education Plan (IEP) the school will pay for it, but we strongly encourage you to get additional private therapy in addition that may be covered by Medicaid or private health insurance.
Occupational Therapy (OT)
This type of therapy may work to improve daily living skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and many other areas. Daily living skills include: dressing, feeding, bathing, toileting, etc. Fine motor skills are important small movements that we learn such as pinching or grasping things with the thumb and index finger. Fine motor skills also includes using scissors, holding a crayon or pencil and writing, zipping and buttoning. Gross motor skills involve larger movements such as jumping, hopping, skipping, throwing, running, and walking.
Note: Occupational therapy is performed by an Occupational Therapist either through the schools or privately. If there are goals addressing daily living skills, gross or fine motor skills on your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) developed by the multi-disciplinary team, the school will most likely provide occupational therapy in the school. Depending on the needs of your child, you may consider a private OT in addition to the therapy received at the school site.
Gluten Free Casein Free Diet
Often called “the diet” among parents who are familiar with it, the gluten free casein free diet (also known as GF/CF diet ) involves removing the proteins gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats) and casein (found in milk products). The Autism Research Institute maintains a database of parent ratings of Behavioral Effects of Biomedical Interventions. According to the database, of the 2561 parents that tried the GF/CF diet with their children, 66% said they saw improvement. When there are digestive issues (as is the case with many children on the autism spectrum), gluten and casein are unable to digest properly and can cause neurological issues, mood swings and behavior problems.
Adherence to the GF/CF diet includes not only removing wheat, barley, rye and dairy products but also checking ingredients in products and familiarizing oneself with ingredients that may contain hidden sources of these proteins. Sometimes the benefits are seen rather quickly; however, sometimes it can be months until results are seen.
By Stephanie Goodman, CNC
Progressive Nutrition Solutions, LLV