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Autism and Asperger syndrome

 

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that results in impaired functioning of social skills, communication, and flexibility in thought and behavior. Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. Here you can read more about what characterizes autism.

Photo: by Caleb Woods on Unsplash


 

This information is based on an article on The Health Library.

Children with autism have a brain that works a little differently than it does in normally developed children. This has consequences for how autistic children develop.

From the outside, autistic children look like any other child. However, children with autism do not develop the skills they need to function socially or at school. 

You may have noticed that your baby was different from the time it was an infant. Most children with autism often show clear signs of diagnosis before the age of three. Autism affects different children in different ways. Some children will need help throughout their lives. Others can fend for themselves and will be able to live an independent life as adults.

Experts are not sure what causes autism, but it seems that it can be hereditary. Researchers have not found a specific gene for the condition, but it may seem that it is a combination of genes that contribute to the diagnosis. Some parents may worry that they could do something to prevent their children from becoming autistic. There is no evidence for such a mindset. It is also not convincing evidence that vaccines, including the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, can cause the condition.

 

What are the symptoms of autism?

If your child is autistic, you will probably see signs of the diagnosis between 18 months and two years of age, or even earlier.

You may notice that your child:

 

  1. does not respond when you shout at him / her, even if he / she seems to hear sounds
  2. do not meet your gaze, smile at you or notice that you are leaving or entering the room
  3. often seems to be in their own world

From the age of nine months, normal children will follow your finger when you point to something. From the age of twelve months, they will also begin to point out things they want. Children with autism often do not. Children with autism may also have frequent tantrums.

You may have noticed that your child plays a little differently than other children. Children with autism often prefer to play alone. Usually children play role-playing games from the age of two. This rarely applies to children with autism.

Some children with autism are preoccupied with a particular thing / toy, and will carry it with them at all times.

Doctors look for problems in three main areas before diagnosing the condition. People with autism will often have difficulty speaking, struggle in social situations and may behave strangely. Most children can make simple (two word) sentences from the age of two. If your child is autistic, the language development will probably take longer. Children with autism will usually start talking by the time they are five years old. Some say just a few words that they often repeat. Others learn to speak the first year, but stop speaking in their second year of life.

Children with autism often dislike social activities such as playing with other children. They often show little affection in the form of smiles and physical closeness, which can be sad for parents and relatives.

Children with autism can also be constantly repetitive in relation to certain activities and show interest in only certain things. For example, they can drive a toy car back and forth over and over again, and get very angry if you try to participate in, or change the game. You may therefore want to have exactly the same routines every day.

Other signs of autism include learning disabilities, sound sensitivity, hyperactivity, writing problems and physical problems. Some children with autism also have epilepsy.

Only a specialist can diagnose autism. If you experience that your child has any of the problems mentioned above, you can talk to your GP. He should be able to refer you to a specialist.

 

What kind of treatment works for autism?

There are no drugs that help with autism. But behavioral therapy can help your child communicate and perform better in school. The most important treatment methods use special techniques to improve the child's learning ability and behavior. These forms of treatment have the best effect the earlier you start. Many other types of treatment have been tried, including special diets. However, there is not enough research to show how well they work.

Different children need different types of treatment, depending on their abilities and problems. For example, a child who does not speak needs a different type of treatment than a child who speaks. A specialist will assess the child's strengths and weaknesses before deciding what kind of treatment is best. Most children with autism do not need medication. Some doctors will still choose to take medication if the child has additional child psychiatric problems.

One method aims to provide early education for parents so that they can give their child extra help learning basic skills. This applies in particular to language skills that are absolutely central in relation to school work. In this program you start working with your child's problems at an early age. Among other things, you learn to recognize different types of behavior in the child so that you can help him / her to communicate better with the social environment.

Studies have shown that children who have received education from their parents did better on verbal tests than children who had not received such education. The children did not cope better with social situations, but the children's parents felt that they knew more about autism and were safer when it came to helping the child.

Research has shown that there are also other educational programs that can increase the child's learning ability. One program is called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Another method is called "Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication for disabled children" (TEACCH). You can read more about this American method at http://www.teacch.com.

In the program called ABA, a trained therapist works with your child for a gradual training of different skills. In the TEACCH program, the training takes place with the help of visual aids such as picture cards and posters.

Research has shown that the ABA program can help children with autism to improve verbal communication and score better on intelligence tests. One study found that children learned more with the TEACCH method. However, this study was small so the results are not completely reliable.

Three other learning programs that are widely used in England are called Child's Talk, More Than Words, and the Picture Exchange and Communication System (PECS for short). All of these methods focus on the communication between parents and children. Experts have experience that this can help even if there is not much research that clearly shows that it has an effect.

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Written by

ove heradstveit

Ove Heradstveit

Psychologist, specialist in clinical community psychology. PhD.
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