Autism: A Perspective of a Spectrum

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Kaufman, M.D. Pediatric Associates of Barrington

Even though autism is not a new disorder, it remains a mysterious disorder and a difficult one to describe, diagnose and characterize.

Descriptions of children believed to have disorders consistent with today's diagnosis of autism have been described in medical literature as early as the 1860s. Many more case reports followed and autism finally earned its place as a medical diagnosis as late as the 1970s.

Autism is now described as one of five disorders on a spectrum, known as pervasive development disorder or PDD. Disorders of the spectrum refer to a series of illnesses characterized by a qualitative impairment in communication, social interaction and behavior.

The disorders include autism, Asperger's syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD NOS).

Autism is reported to occur in as many as 1 in 110 children in the United States.

Autism does not favor a racial, ethnic or socioeconomic background. However it is four to five times more common in boys, and is more common in twins, and members within a family.

There have been many theories as to why autism is increasingly more common, and what the causes are. Many nonscientific theorists have pointed to our environment as a major contributor toward the increasing incidence of autism, such as environmental pollutants, diet, allergies and components of childhood vaccines.

However, all scientific data and research leads to the conclusion that disorders of the autism spectrum are a group of genetic disorders that can't be identified with current genetic testing; environmental toxins, specifically vaccine components, are NOT a direct cause of autism.

There are several manifestations and signs to watch for in a child during his or her development that could indicate concern for a diagnosis of a disorder on the autism spectrum. Autism manifests foremost with several communication impairments and challenges that develop and progress throughout early childhood. These may include difficulty using or understanding verbal and/or nonverbal language, a failure to initiate or sustain conversation and echoing words or phrases heard.

Additionally, speech may have an abnormal pitch, rate, rhythm or intonation. A child may have severely delayed expressive and receptive language skills, and may use screaming, crying, tantrums or aggression to communicate.

Autism disorders also present with numerous social challenges. …