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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Essay on Signs of Autism in Children

Consider the case of a person named Andrew Bacalao he is 18 years old now.  He is a relatively good pianist and a recognized master at video games and jigsaw puzzle.  He can remember any person’s phone numbers just like a personal computer. (Geoffrey Cowley 2)  Consider also the case of Jamie, a child diagnosed with classical autism.  Since she was 2 years old, her parents noticed that she was not quite “normal” compared to the other kids since she appeared withdrawn from her environment. (Roger Dobson 1)  On the other hand, Peter is an 8-year-old Caucasian boy who rarely played with other children.  If he is approached by unfamiliar peers, he would sometimes hit or bite himself or his peers.  He frequently makes vocalizations but he does not make use of them to communicate. (SoHyun Lee 4)    

These children have one thing in common.  They have trouble interacting with people.  Even if you converse with them and talk to them, they will not even look at you directly.  Some of these children have difficulty communicating with people.  Some of them started talking only when they were around the age of 6 or 7.  Even if they do communicate they may have difficulty actually expressing themselves.  On the other hand, some have difficulty dealing with change making it difficult for the parents to transfer to a new apartment or city or to introduce any changes in the family. 

Several decades ago, the parents of these children thought that their own child was a difficult child.  They may think that their own child has a discipline problem in which case the parents may resort to corporal punishment just to force the child to communicate with them or to respond to them.  Some parents may even think that the child is a slow learner or that there is something wrong with the child’s brain.  Some parents may even think that the child’s hearing is impaired.  (Dobson 1)

Nowadays, more people have become familiar about this kind of disorder among children.  This is now known as Autism.  It is a developmental disorder that affects children from birth or the early months of his life.  It is defined as a lifelong neuro-developmental disorder characterized by early onset of impairments in social interaction and communication and unusual, stereotyped behaviors. (S. J. Blumberg 1) What parents thought of as a discipline problem or brain problem is now known as a disorder that results in the delay in the normal patterns of development. 

This essay seeks to discuss the myths and realities of autism among children.  Focus will be made on the perception that autism is a dreaded disorder in which the parents and the child will have to suffer for the rest of their life and on the perception that boys are more susceptible to autism than girls. (Robert Kunzig 1)  The purpose of this essay is to correct erroneous perceptions about autism and to prove that autism is not a curse.  Scholarly articles from different websites were consulted to support this hypothesis. 

Autism in Children
Autism, also known as infantile autism or childhood autism almost always develops before the age of three and is characterized by impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, repetitive and restrictive stereotyped interest, and ritual behavior.  Research shows that around 8.7 of every 10,000 children are autistic, and more than 1 in 300 children have some form of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD).  (“Autism”)  The results of the study of the US Department of Health and Human Services in 1999, on the other hand, showed that as many as 12 in every 10,000 children have autism or related condition. (“Children's Mental Health Facts: Children and Adolescents with Autism” 3)

Research shows that a child who has autism has difficulty in these three areas in development: a) social relationships and interactions; b) Language and communication; c) Activities and interests. 

Children with autism experience difficulty in developing relationships with other people. (Sohyun Lee 3)  It would seem that are not interested in playing and interacting with other children.  They often do not have the same interests with other children of the same age.  Most of them cannot even distinguish facial expressions and cannot tell the difference between a smile and a smirk.  (Cowley 4) 

Also, children with autism have impairment in their speech.  Oftentimes these children may never learn to speak at all.   If they do learn to speak they start speaking at a relatively older age compared to children who do not have this disorder. 

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Autistic children are also distinct from other children because of their interests in standard and repetitive behavior. Oftentimes they excel in activities which require categorical information such as dismantling a radio or flashlight and putting together jig-saw puzzles

According to Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the main difference with children with autism and children without autism is that the former has an imbalance between two kinds of intelligence: the kind of intelligence used to understand people, or empathizing, and the kind of intelligence used to understand things, or systemizing. 

According to Baron-Cohen this comparison can be further understood by explaining the difference between boys and girls with no autism disorder.  As a rule, both boys and girls have the capacity to empathize and systemize.  However, girls have greater ability in empathizing with people while boys are better in systemizing.  Children with autism therefore are just exaggerations of the male profile.  To further explain, children with autism have extreme fondness of categorical information and standard systems of knowledge but this is always accompanied by inability to interpret other people’s feelings and emotions. 

Autism is something that the child will carry for the rest of his or her life. It may also range in severity.  Some children may experience mild form of autism in which case the child may be able to live independently, get employed, get married and have children of his own.  This is the situation of Dave Spicer who was diagnosed to have mild autism.  (Cowley 6)  At first he did not know that he had mild autism until his son was diagnosed to have autism.  He sought diagnosis and he found out that he also has mild autism.  He is around 50 years of age.  He is a computer programmer and system designer.  He however has difficulty maintaining relationship as a result he has had 2 failed marriages and has experienced difficulty maintaining his career.   On the other hand, there are cases where autism is severe in which case the child may require social support and medical supervision throughout his or her life. 

It must be stressed however that despite these deviances from what is considered normal behavior of children, there are some psychologist who say that autism should not be considered as a serious and dreaded disease in need of a cure.  According to Baron-Cohen autism is merely “a mental style that people should learn to accommodate.  Sometimes it’s even a gift.”  (Cowley 6)

Parents should understand that children with autism are not a burden.  They are not dumb or stupid neither are they slow learners or psychotic.  Psychologists have arrived at a consensus that even if autistic children lack the skills necessary to interact with other children, it is possible however for them to excel in some tasks which “normal” people have difficulty in doing. 

According to Patricia Juhrs, a director of Rockville, Md., group called Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children, has an adult client who has taken great pains to memorize every top 10 song list Billboard magazine that was published since 1947.  This just shows that given the right environment for them autistic children may live a “normal” life.  They may even be recognized for their excellence in particular tasks. 

Catherine Johnson, an author an activist who has two autistic sons, even suggested that we should have autistic people running scanners at airports.  This is perhaps because autistic people are skilled in performing routine activities.  Unlike non-autistic people who may find routinary activities boring, autistic people may be recognized at these jobs. 

Autism between boys and girls
There is common perception that boys are more likely to be afflicted with autism than girls.  This perception seems to be supported by statistics since as early as 1943, the results of the study of L. Kanner revealed that in a small group of children with autistic syndrome there are four (4) times as many boys as girls.  (L. Kanner) This finding was confirmed by Ehlers and Gillberg who also found that the ratio of male to female afflicted with Autism is 4:1. (Ehlers, S. & Gillberg, C.) These studies are all apparently confirmed by the National Institute of Health (2001) which concluded that autism is three times more common in boys than in girls. 

Until now, however, there is no scientific evidence that can explain why there seems to be disparity in the effects of autism between boys and girls.  There is also no consensus insofar as the scientific community is concerned on the possible reasons why boys seem to be more susceptible to autism than girls, if ever this finding is true.  Among the scientific explanations raised was that of Bernard Rimland in 1964 who theorized that boys tends to be more susceptible to autism because of the fact that as a rule males are more susceptible to organic damage than girls whether through hereditary diseases, acquired infections or other conditions.  (“Autism: why do more boys than girls develop it?” 2)

Some scientists however have based their explanation on the genetic differences between male and female.  According to Skuse (2000), the gene or genes responsible for causing autism are located on the X chromosome.  While girls inherit their X chromosomes from both parents, boys only inherit their chromosomes from their mothers.  Skuse theorized that the reason why girls are less likely to develop autism is because X chromosome which girls inherit from their fathers contains an imprinted gene which protects the carrier from autism.

The most possible explanation however is that the reason why there seems to be more boys afflicted with autism is that girls are under-diagnosed. (“Girls' autism 'under-diagnosed'” 2) Many girls who could be suffering from autism are never referred by their parents for diagnosis to physiologists and experts and so they could only be missing from the statistics.  According to Professor Gillberg, parents of girls with autism may have difficulty identifying signs of autism in them because they do not show the traditional signs of the disorder.  He added that in a typical case of autism children exhibit poor social and communications skills, hyperactivity and interests in technical hobbies.  On the other hand, some girls even if they do have autism are still more passive than boys and are more inclined to collect information on people.  These characteristics of girls could be hiding the problem of autism resulting in them being under-diagnosed and underrepresented by studies. 

According to Gillberg, parents of girls who have autism may interpret their passiveness or lack of aggressiveness as a sign of shyness.  In addition, parents may not notice that there is a problem in their children because girls are also more inclined to be interested with people.  They may be interested with things that have connection to people but parents may fail to nice that these girls may still not interact with people. 

In the treatment of Autism, it is important for the parents to realize that there is life after their child is diagnosed to have autism.  It is not a curse.  Autism is not the end of the child’s life neither is it the end the parent’s life.  The child may learn to deal with his condition, slowly learn to interact with his or her environment, perform similar tasks as “normal” people, get employed, and be recognized for a job well done.  It is very fortunate that over the years our understanding of autism disorder has greatly expanded.  Parents are now more aware of autism.  They are now more capable of handling this situation.  Research materials about autism are now more available compared to one or two decades ago.  Misconceptions about autism have also been identified and exposed resulting in better understanding to this problem.  What is important however is for the parents to be able to immediately recognize if their child has autism disorder as early as possible so that proper intervention measures may be administered.  

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