Introduction To Autism
Autism, a brain disorder that affects about 1 to 2 people out of a thousand in America, often
results in a lifetime disorder that impairs the way a person feels, thinks, and how they
react in social environments, things most people take for granted everyday.
A person diagnosed with Autism has problems with communication and forming personal and
friendly relationships with others and also finds it hard to hold a conversation with
others because their reaction to topics is somewhat different.
There are different levels of Autism, some who have this disorder are relatively high
functioning, they can speak just like anyone else, but others are mute or have language
delays. For some, autism makes them feel like they are closed off, and others seem to
be locked into repetitive behaviors and patterns of thinking and performance. A young
infant with autism may not make eye contact with anyone, and seem deaf, because they do
not respond when being spoken to, and will not develop or stop developing language.
Children may act as if they are unaware of coming and going of other individuals, some
are physically abusive toward themselves and others without being provoked. Children afffected
by Autism will often remain fixated on a single item or activity, such as hand clapping,
verbal noises that some describe as a type of "chant," for lack of a better
word, and walk on their toes most of the time when not wearing shoes.
Children with Autism do not act as others do when they are hurt, they will sometimes
pick at scabs, blisters etc until they bleed and will still pick at them if not stopped,
and some may even mutliate themselves, (headbanging, scratching etc.)
The National Institute of Mental Health - in collaboration with the National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke, and the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders-is
searching for answers about the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of this devastating
disorder. Research has made it possible to identify Autism at earlier ages and are able
to initiate earlier intervention. Both psychosocial and pharmacological interventions
can improve the behavioral and function of someone with Autism. Studies are evaluating
medications such as risperidone and valproate, looking at mechanisms of action, safety,
and effectiveness, on cognition, behavior, and development.
Improving early diagnosis and able to differentiate the various forms of autism is a
goal of brain imaging studies that are building a database on normal brain development
in children. Scans of the normal structural and functional maturation of the brain will
be compared with those from individuals with autism, speeding development of targeted
treatments and evaluations of their effects. Yet, even the most advanced scanners cannot
substitute for post-mortem brain tissue.
Researchers are comparing the impairments seen in individuals with autism to impairments
found in those with other disorders that affect the "executive" functions of
the brain, such as schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder and Tourette's syndrome.
In addition to cognitive impairments, individuals with autism often suffer from multiple
psychopathologies, including impulse-control disorders, psychosis, obsessive-compulsive
disorder, mood and anxiety disorders.
Some relatives of people with Autism may exhibit cognitive problems without even realizing
it. Researchers are studying these family members to characterize these behavioral and
biological traits, in hopes of tracing the variations in the genetic blueprint that contribute
to this illness.
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