The Latest on Autism
The Different Types of Autism
Some of the different types of autism include:
- Autistic disorder. This is what most people think of when they hear the word "autism." It refers to problems with social interactions, communication, and imaginative play in children younger than age 3.
- Asperger'ssyndrome. Children with Asperger's syndrome have some traits of autism, especially weak social skills and a preference for sameness and routine. But unlike those with autism, children with Asperger's syndrome usually start to talk around 2 years of age (the age at which speech normally develops). They have normal to above-normal intelligence.
- Rett syndrome. Known to occur primarily in girls, children with Rett syndrome begin to develop normally. Then they begin to lose their communication and social skills. Head growth slows during the first months of life and a loss of purposeful hand movements occurs. Muscle movement is startling and mental retardation is typical.
- Childhood disintegrative disorder. This condition resembles autism. These children develop normally for at least two years and then lose some or most of their communication and social skills.
How Is Autism Treated?
Symptoms and behaviors of autism can combine in many ways and vary in severity. In addition, individual symptoms and behaviors often change over time. For these reasons, treatment strategies are tailored to individual needs and available family resources.
While there is no cure for autism, early intervention and treatment may allow for relatively normal development in the child and reduce undesirable behaviors. Children with autism generally benefit most from a highly structured environment and the use of routines. Treatment for autism may include a combination of the following:
- Special education: Education is structured to meet the child's unique educational needs.
- Behavior modification: This includes strategies for supporting positive behavior and decreasing problem behaviors.
- Speech, physical, or occupational therapy: These therapies are designed to increase the child's functional abilities.
- Social skills training: This training helps children learn to interact and read verbal and non verbal cues more appropriately.
- Medication: There are no drugs approved to treat autism, but medications may be used to treat specific symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors or behaviors that may result in injury.
What Autism Research Is Being Done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, is studying brain abnormalities that may cause autism and is looking for genes that may increase the risk of autism. Researchers also are investigating possible biologic markers present at birth that can identify infants at risk for developing autism. Other studies are examining how different brain regions develop and function in relation to each other and how alterations in these relationships may result in the signs and symptoms of autism. Researchers hope these studies will provide new clues about how autism develops and how brain abnormalities affect behavior.
Autism cannot be prevented or cured. But early diagnosis and intervention is critical and may help to maximize a child's ability to speak, learn, and function.
It is very important that all children see a pediatrician or family physician regularly so that any signs of autism can be detected early. The earlier treatment is started, the more effective it can be.