What is autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means it’s a disorder of brain development. Its onset is early, showing signs and symptoms typically by age two or three. The current umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorders includes previously separated sub-types such as Asperger’s and childhood disintegrative disorders.
Each person will have unique challenges, but the main difficulties relate to communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviors. For some the symptoms may be mild while others will be severely affected.
Examples of communication challenges:
• Delayed speech development, such as not babbling in the first year of life.
• Not having conversations with others, but instead, talking on and on about a favorite topic.
Signs of impaired socialization:
• They may not make eye contact
• Prefer to play alone
• Don’t seek comfort from their parents
People with ASD are often described as disconnected. However, persons on the spectrum are often engaged and connected, but the ways they express it are difficult for others to understand. In fact, many people prefer to think of persons with autism as different, not disordered.
Repetitive or restricted behaviors:
• Rocking, hand flapping or spinning
• Repeating words or sounds
• Intense, singular interests (obsessions) such as fans
Other issues often found in people with ASD are intellectual disorders (formerly known as mental retardation), gastrointestinal (GI) problems, sensory integration difficulties and seizure disorders. The prevalence has been increasing. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 1 out of 68 children are on the spectrum. This is a 10-fold increase in 40 years. We don’t know why, but the increase is not fully explained simply by improved diagnosis and awareness. Boys are five times more likely to have autism than girls.
In future editions we will cover treatment options and how to access programs and therapy; but know that there is hope and help for persons with autism, as well as their families and support systems. You can find more information online at sites such as Michigan.gov and Autism Speaks.
Dr. Carmen McIntyre is the Chief Medical Officer at Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. If you have a question for Dr. McIntyre, please submit it to AskThe- Dr@dwmha.com