Austin Spectrum Disorder is different for each child—and therein lies the problem.
When it was first diagnosed in 1943, experts thought that number of children with the disorder was 1 in 10,000. Now, according to data released last March by the Centers for Disease Control, the number of children thought to have autism is 1 in 88; there are great variances in the disorder, from high-functioning, like with those above, to severe. Yet there is no single cause.
The Autism Society of Greater New Orleans describes the condition as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. While it can be defined by a certain set of behaviors, it is a “spectrum disorder” that affects each child differently.
“There is no cookie-cutter approach to treating children with autism,” says Terry Johnson, Ph.D, a leading therapist in ASD in the Crescent City area. “Every single child is different, so the struggle for parents is to figure out what works for their child.”
Different Behaviors for Different Children
“Typical” autistic behavior includes the delay in or lack of spoken language, repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects), little or no eye contact, lack of interest in peer relationships, lack of spontaneous or make-believe play, and persistent fixation on parts of objects.
Dr. Johnson says that the guilt parents feel is common, and unnecessary. “Many moms and dads wonder, ‘what did I do wrong?’” she says “And the answer is, nothing. We still don’t know what causes autism.”
She says some of the common theories are that it could be genetic, or it could be environmental, or even that the age of the father—if he is older—may play a role in causing the disorder. “But we are still a long way away from finding out what exactly we can pin it on,” she says.
One theory that she can debunk, though, is that childhood vaccinations cause autism. “There’s no evidence to that at all.”
While there have been many types of therapy used by psychologists and pediatricians, not one had emerged as a leader until recently. Many therapists are now leaning toward Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a sort of reward system similar to a typical star chart for doing chores.
Still, Dr. Johnson is the first to admit that the medical and psychological fields are still a long way from knowing all about autism spectrum disorder. “But we’ve come a long way in a few years, so I have a lot of hope,” she says. “The main thing for parents and friends to understand is that even though a child may be labeled ‘autistic,’ he or she is a vibrant, loving human being. They just process things a lot differently than many others of us do.”
•Kids with autism are anti-social.
•Kids with autism are anti-social.
Not true. Many children with ASD desperately want to make connections, but they are unable to do so in the “normal” way; it may take time.
•Kids with autism love routine.
True. Since these children process stimulations differently, simple changes can be frightening and they may act out.
•Children with ASD grow up into violent adults.
Not true. There has been “bad press” in the news since the Newtown, CT, massacre, where the shooter was identified as having a form of autism. But studies show that those with ASD are no more likely to exhibit violent behavior than “normal” people.
•Technology is a great tool for kids with ASD.
True. The iPad especially, with its many, many applications for autism, helps children learn in a way that is conducive to their learning styles.
•Asperger’s Syndrome will no longer be “diagnosed” as its own disorder.
True. The American Psychiatric Association has dropped the separate diagnosis, instead having it fall under autism spectrum disorder, “to help more accurately and consistently diagnose children with autism,” the APA said in a statement.
by Peggy Spear