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Autism: What You Need to Know

"What is it exactly?"
By: Lourdes Nena A. Cabison-Carlos, MDAutism: What You Need to Know

I am different, not less.

-Temple Grandin, animal behavior expert and author of The Autistic Brain

Autism: the word itself inflicts fear in parents. It cannot be denied that the stigma associated with autism makes parents and guardians reluctant to consult with professionals, and to come out in society. But we mostly fear what we do not understand, so let us arm ourselves with information that can open our eyes to this disorder.

Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics is still a relatively new specialty but trained professionals who can diagnose children with developmental problems are increasing. What is commonly known as autism is actually part of a spectrum of complex neurodevelopmental disorder called Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties and restrictive, repetitive, stereotyped patterns of behaviors. This spectrum includes Asperger, Rett, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Autistic Disorder and other PDD not otherwise specified.

What causes ASD?

As of now, the direct cause of autism is not known. However, genes are thought to play a very important role, based on observations that twins and family members of ASD individuals have a higher risk of also being diagnosed with ASD. The influence of environmental factors on gene function may also be a factor. Likewise, it has been observed that individuals with genetic and chromosomal conditions such as Fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis have a high incidence of ASD.

What tests are done for individuals suspected with ASD?

Speech, language and psychometric tests are done to evaluate level of intellectual function. Laboratory and imaging tests are usually not utilized unless there are concurrent problems such as EEG and neuroimaging for seizures. On the other hand, it is important to do an audiologic test on children suspected with ASD to rule out hearing disorders.

Is there treatment for ASD?

Yes, but the success of treatment for ASD is largely dependent on EARLY and PROPER intervention. Physical, occupational, speech and behavioral therapy have been shown to improve function and level of independence. Proper education and appropriate training are also important. Studies have shown that individuals who have undergone early and appropriate therapy were able to grow up with improved social function. Support from family members and society is very important and cannot be over-emphasized.

Can individuals with ASD lead a normal life?

Some individuals with ASD are capable of growing-up to be self-sufficient members of the society. There are numerous writers, artists and other successful individuals who have ASD. Unfortunately, on the other hand, some may remain to be partially or fully dependent on others.

There are numerous websites and support groups on autism available on the internet. However, remember to check the site for medical reliability and accuracy.

For more information on Autism, you may find the following sites helpful:

The Autism Society of the Philippines
The Autism Research Institute
The NIH-National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Center for Disease Control and Prevention

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