When looking at the CDC’s top 20 most requested disorders, I was somewhat surprised to find Autism toward the top. However, after conducting more research I discovered that the rates of autism have drastically increased over the decades, while scientists still cannot pinpoint what causes the disease, let alone how to prevent it or cure it.
“Autism” is one of the most common diagnoses in what are called “Autistic Spectrum Disorders” (ASD’s). ASD’s include Rett’s Syndrome, Asperger Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, with Autism being the most severe. Although the incidences of ASDs are on the rise, the long-term prognosis is good if therapy is started early.
Pathology: Although there are different theories for how children develop autism, there is currently no one theory that is widely agreed upon in the medical community. There does seem to be a strong genetic link…(if one identical twin has autism, the other twin has a 75% chance of developing it), but the environment seems to be a strong factor as well. Studies have shown that people with autism have abnormal areas of their brains, as well as an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters. However, not much more is known as to how or why autism develops.
Symptoms/ Warning Signs: People afflicted with autism tend to have the following three characteristics: impaired social functioning, impaired communication (verbal and nonverbal), and repetitive behaviors. However, the severity of each of these may vary widely on a person to person basis. These problems can usually be seen anywhere from 1-3 years of age as children with autism begin to severely lag behind a normal child development time line.
Diagnosis: Because Autism may vary so widely from one individual to the next, receiving a diagnosis of autism is a fairly long process that may include multiple physicians. The process usually begins with a series of questions from the general practitioner, who may then refer the patient to a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, or other specialists to develop one agreed-upon diagnosis.
Treatment: Treatments differ based upon how the patient is affected by autism. Some of the treatments may include medication, as well as behavioral, educational, and language therapy. Depending on the severity of the autism and how effective treatments are, people with autism can lead a normal, functional life, and the long-term prognosis can be very good.
Epidemiology: Autism occurs in every socioeconomic and ethnic group, but it affects males four times more than females.
Morbidity: About 1 in 150 young children in America are currently diagnosed with autism.
Mortality: Autism itself does not lead to death.
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