October 14, 2009

Autism Spectrum Disorders: Signs and Treatment

Posted in Category : Common Ailments

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) covers a wide range (or spectrum) of psychological conditions that are usually characterized by impaired social interaction communication, and restricted or repetitive behavior. Since ASD includes several disorders, the American Psychiatric Association uses the term pervasive development disorders (PDD) to refer to autism, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD NOS). PDDs are behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorders that begin early in childhood. While most children are successfully diagnosed only in preschool or school, it is now known that certain signs and symptoms are manifested by the age of one. However, there is no clear indication that a child may be suffering from PDD. In some children, the impairment in communication, social, and behavioral patterns may be apparent at a very young age. In others, the child may exhibit normal developmental patterns before suddenly exhibiting marked changes in behavior and social interactions.

Children with PDD may face difficulty in social interactions, and many even avoid eye contact. They can appear to be self absorbed and unresponsive to their parents’ hugs, smiles, or attempts at play. Research has suggested that while children with PDD may feel certain emotions, they just have not developed the ability to learn the appropriate manner to display them to parents and loved ones. A common fallacy is that such children do not want friends; it’s just that making and maintaining friendships is difficult for them without the appropriate social tools. In some cases, people with PDDs cannot control their emotional expressions and may display socially ‘unacceptable’ behaviors like crying, verbal outbursts, or incidents of physical anger. A second key factor in PDDs is verbal communication; children often ‘stop’ learning language at a very young age and some remain mute for their lifetime. In other cases, they may be able to use certain works, but are unable to put together meaningful sentences. This lack of communication extends to non-verbal communication and can make it frustrating for people with ASD when they need to express needs or wants. The third factor in PDD patients is the presence of some form of repetitive or restricted behavior. This can take a physical form, such as rocking back and forth, or a persistent interest in a particular topic, such as numbers or airline schedules.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has become widely accepted as an effective treatment for PDDs. This helps to create highly personalized, structured, specialized programs that can help people in their lifelong journey with PDD.