Autism Doesnt Have A Look
Since the birth of our now teenaged autistic son, there have been many moments where someone has said, Well, he doesnt look autistic! This is really frustrating for me as a parent of a special needs person because it is a perspective of what people see, instead of what an autistic person can do. It is also an educational moment for me to explain the nuances and in-betweens of this neurological disorder that can manifest so very differently in people.
Early Screening For Autism
Many children arenât diagnosed with an autism disorder until preschool or even kindergarten, and may miss getting the help they need in the early years. That’s why guidelines call for screening all children at nine months old for delays in basic skills. Special ASD checkups are needed at:
- 18 months
- As needed for children with worrisome behaviors or a family history of autism
Brain Chemistry And Asd
The neurochemistry of autism is far from clear and very likely involves several different chemical systems of the brain. This information provides the basis for medication trials to impact the way the brain works in order to elicit a change in behavior.
An analysis of neurochemistry in children with ASD alone has consistently identified involvement of at least two systems.
Additionally, opiates, which regulate mood, reward, responses to stress, and perception of pain, may also be involved in some children.
Detailed studies of brain chemistry in children with DS-ASD have not yet been done. However, our clinical experience in using medications that modulate dopamine, serotonin or both systems has been favorable in some children with DS-ASD.
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Children With Autism Have Distinct Facial Features: Study
Scientists may not agree on what causes autism, but a new study that looked at kids’ facial characteristics might help researchers understand the origins of the developmental disorder.
The study found that children with autism have distinct differences in facial characteristics than typically developing children.
“There is no clear answer about whether autism is caused by genetics or by environmental influences,” study author Dr. Kristina Aldridge, assistant professor of anatomy at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said in a . “If we can identify when these facial changes occur, we could pinpoint when autism may begin to develop in a child.”
For the study – published in the Oct. 14 issue of Molecular Autism – researchers compared facial features in 64 boys with autism with faces of 41 typically developing boys, all 8-12 years old, with a 3-D camera system. After mapping out 17 points on faces, the researchers found significant differences between the two groups.
The study found children with autism had wider eyes, and a “broader upper face,” compared with typically developing children. According to the study, children with autism also had a shorter middle region of the face – including the nose and cheeks – as well as a wider mouth and philtrum, the divot above the lip and below the nose.
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Top 10 Facts About Adult Autism
Steven Gans, MD, is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
People with autism, like everyone else, are adults for much longer than they are kids. That’s an easy fact to overlook when you search online for information about autism, because most articles and images focus on young children.
While it’s true that symptoms of autism appear first in early childhood, autism is not a pediatric disorder. Adults with autism face lifelong challenges.
So why is relatively little written about autism and adulthood? While there’s no absolute answer, here are some educated guesses:
- Autism manifests before age 3, so most new diagnoses of autism are in children.
- Most people who actively read about autism are worried-but-hopeful parents of children who are or may be autistic.
- Because of the changes in how autism is defined, many adults now considered autistic never received an autism diagnosis.
- High-functioning adults with autism are often uninterested in reading about non-autistic perspectives on autism.
- Some adults with autism have intellectual disabilities that make it extremely difficult to read about autism.
Brain Development And Asd
The development of the brain and how it functions is different in some way in children with DS-ASD than their peers with Down syndrome. Characterizing and recording these differences in brain development through detailed evaluation of both groups of children will provide a better understanding of the situation and possible treatments for children with DS-ASD.
A detailed analysis of the brain performed at autopsy or with magnetic resonance imaging in children with autism shows involvement of several different regions of the brain:
- The limbic system, which is important for regulating emotional response, mood and memory,
- The temporal lobes, which are important for hearing and normal processing of sounds,
- The cerebellum, which coordinates motor movements and some cognitive operations, and
- The corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the cortex together.
At Kennedy Krieger Institute, we have conducted MRI studies of 25 children with DS-ASD. The preliminary results support the notion that the cerebellum and corpus callosum is different in appearance in these children compared to those with Down syndrome alone. We are presently evaluating other areas of the brain, including the limbic system and all major cortical subregions, to look for additional markers that will distinguish children with DS-ASD from their peers with Down syndrome alone.
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How Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Play
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to be less spontaneous than other kids. Unlike a typical curious little kid pointing to things that catch their eye, children with ASD often appear disinterested or unaware of whats going on around them. They also show differences in the way they play. They may have trouble with functional play, or using toys that have a basic intended use, such as toy tools or cooking set. They usually dont play make-believe, engage in group games, imitate others, collaborate, or use their toys in creative ways.
Varied Availability Of Services
Adults with autism are entitled to nothing but are likely to receive at least some level of support. If you live in some states, you’ll have little trouble accessing services and funding for adults with autism.
If you live in other states, you’re out of luck. According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services , thes states offer the least generous programs and services:
Of course, the definition of “services and funding” varies depending upon need. For example, Medicaid doesn’t provide vocational training or supportservices that would be particularly useful to higher functioning adults.
Medicaid may or may not be a source of funding for housing, day programs, and other services.
One excellent, updated source of information about state-by-state offerings is Easter Seals. While they do focus quite a bit on children, they also include a wide range of detailed information about resources and services for all ages.
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Fixation On Particular Subjects Or Ideas
Continually discussing the same topics in conversation, obsessively playing the same song repeatedly, or reading every article written about a certain topic are some ways that autistic fixations can manifest. These interests can be negative if they take over the individuals life or interfere with their relationships with others. Of course, these obsessive tendencies can also be helpful Dan Aykroyd, writer and star in the hit film Ghostbusters, was inspired by his focus on ghosts and the paranormal. Many other high-functioning autistic individuals have used their focus on mathematics, biology, or writing to inspire successful careers.
Tip : Get To Know Someone
I find Its always easier to look someone in the eye when Ive got to know them. Im not sure why this is, but I am assuming my brain gets better at predicting intention, so doesnt try to work as hard before it inevitably overloads. For this reason, many autistic people should try to have prior communication with an individual before meeting them in person i.e. through instant messaging or a phone call, whilst using social stories with the faces of people can also be a great way to support autists .
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Why Is Eye Contact Difficult And Distressing For Individuals With Autism
The question why individuals with autism avoid or have reduced eye contact has been asked for a long time. Studies debunked the theory that lack of eye contact indicates an indifference and lack of empathy.
Since children with autism cannot convey what they want or feel through making eye contact, it is difficult to engage with them. Some of the research did not suggest uncomfortable sensation in children with autism when they were subjected to eye contact.
However, the results of the studies are enough to rethink the consequences of coercing them to practice the behavior.
During their therapies, sometimes children with autism are forced to look into someones eye so as to complete their task. However, forcing children with ASD into making eye contact may create a lot of anxiety for them.
Instead of forcing children with autism into making eye contact, it has to be a slow process of getting used to the concept. This may be a more appropriate manner to help them handle the process of eye contact without causing stress.
In this way, the impact that avoiding eye contact has on the social brain can also be avoided.
Society should also understand the reasons for avoiding eye contact by individuals on the autism spectrum. Understanding that eye contact can actually create physical and psychological discomfort would help other people see the complexities of facial expressions for such individuals.
You Dont Have To Be Autistic Advocates To Understand
Sadly, for the millions of parents who know better. We can only continue to do what we do best: love and support our children. Nobody else will. We are the keepers of disappointment that developmental milestones dont apply to us, or when we find that medical insurance does not cover overly expensive and much-needed behavior therapy. We are the proactive and often angry parents questioning why sensory integration and assistive technology are not incorporated into our childs Individual Education Plan .
An autistic child may be one of those you see in grocery store aisles shrieking at the top of their lungs or wandering off non-stop at a moments notice. So please, do not be quick to judge the parents. Looks are very deceiving and are not always what they seem. Consider that it may not be bad behavior maybe theyre children with autism.
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Advocacy Starts At The Diagnosis Of Asd
So, from the time your child initially receives a diagnosis until they reach adulthood, becoming your childs advocate is so extremely critical. Right now, no one expert has been able to confirm what causes autism, but one thing is certain: bad parenting IS NOT the cause of this impairment.
Unfortunately, you still have some people who are ready and willing to wave the idea around that a parent can inflict autism onto their child. There are a few people I know who are still quick to say that there is nothing wrong with my son and that he only needs to be disciplined.
Although such an accusation pains me deeply, I now understand that it doesnt matter who the person is or how well educated they may think they are on the subject of autism no one can truly comprehend what its like to raise an autistic child unless they are raising one themselves.
Who Are You Again
Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is common among those on the spectrum. Some of us have a really difficult time recognizing people out of context. For example, if we are used to seeing you at church or school, but we see you out in the grocery store or local park, we may feel we recognize you, but we cant quite make the connection in our minds.
When an autistic person asks who you are or seems to struggle to remember you, this is exactly whats happening. There are no hidden agendas. It doesnt mean you arent important to them or they have not paid attention to you.
However, neurotypical people may take this behavior to mean that they are not worth remembering or not worth the bother. They may mistake the autistic person as being snobby, uppity, or acting too good for them.
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Breaking Through The Barriers Of Asd
ASD has no cure. But there is hope through treatment. Many children can learn to communicate and interact. Healthcare providers and mental health experts have learned a lot about how to break through to these children.
Here are some things we know about children with an ASD:
They may not be able to understand your nonverbal communications. They may not react to your smile or frown.
They take things literally. You need to be careful to say exactly what you mean. If you hurry the child by saying “Step on it,” don’t be surprised if he or she asks what to step on.
They may only be able to handle one thought or idea at a time. Keep conversations focused and simple.
They may want to only talk about the one thing they are really interested in at a given time.
They may see things differently than you do. You may not even notice ordinary sounds, tastes, touches, smells, and sights. But these may be physically painful to the child.
Variability In Adults With Autism
Not all adults with autism are alike.
- Some adults with autism have successful careers in demanding fields such as information technology, robotics, and video game production.
- Some work part-time while also taking advantage of day programs and resources.
- Some are unable to function in the workplace and spend their days in sheltered settings.
- Some adults on the spectrum are happily married or partnered.
- Others have romantic friendships.
- A significant number are unable to form meaningful, reciprocal relationships with peers.
These vast differences make it just as tough to define or provide services for adults with autism as for children on the spectrum.
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We Cancel Plans At The Last Minute
Its always a bit of a gut punch when youre all dolled up ready to head out and, suddenly, your partner in crime cancels. But, whats more frustrating is when that person comes out with some lame excuse for why, i.e. my car broke down whilst I was on the way to wash my hair and I suddenly came down with the flu as my dog ate my homework
In reality, the autistic person in question would probably prefer to have had all the above happened as, the truth is, they likely have been hit by a truck of anxiety. This has been the case for me on so many occasions and, believe me, no matter how disappointed you are with us, we are likely to feel twice as bad about it ourselves.
So, if this happens to you, try and not pile onto our woes and maybe encourage us to open up about the thoughts holding us back. If we mention that we do want to go out, but are anxious about the unexpected, offer us a get out of jail free card by saying something like We can leave whenever you want . Furthermore, if the anxiety really is too much, why not move the evening plans to a lesser packed venue, such as someones home? Fun doesnt always have to involve overpriced drinks.
Should We Force Eye Contact
So should we insist on eye contact with those who find it uncomfortable? As with many complex questions, the best answer is probably it depends.
First and foremost, we encourage you to begin by exploring what the issue means for your son. How does making eye contact affect your son? Does it help him pay attention to the conversation or make it more difficult?
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Getting An Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis
The road to an ASD diagnosis can be difficult and time-consuming. In fact, it is often two to three years after the first symptoms of ASD are noticed before an official diagnosis is made. This is due in large part to concerns about labeling or incorrectly diagnosing the child. However, an ASD diagnosis can also be delayed if the doctor doesnt take a parents concerns seriously or if the family isnt referred to health care professionals who specialize in developmental disorders.
If youre worried that your child has ASD, its important to seek out a clinical diagnosis. But dont wait for that diagnosis to get your child into treatment. Early intervention during the preschool years will improve your childs chances for overcoming their developmental delays. So look into treatment options and try not to worry if youre still waiting on a definitive diagnosis. Putting a potential label on your kids problem is far less important than treating the symptoms.