National Autism Awareness Month



National Autism Awareness Month

The numbers speak for themselves.

The families that live with autism everyday are aware of the difficulties and the challenges that come with everyday. Living with autism can be a struggle. Because of stigma, lack of awareness about mental health and poor medical infrastructure, few autism prevalence studies exist outside of the U.S., Canada and the U.K. "Even though it seems like anybody and everybody has heard of autism, in many places in the world it's still sort of a new topic. In urban areas of South Korea, some families of children with developmental delays will go to great lengths to avoid a diagnosis of chapae, or autism. They think of it as a genetic mark of shame on the entire family, and a major obstacle to all of their children's chances of finding suitable spouses.

Because autism can't be cured, many parents seek out alternative and complementary therapies, but these treatments have little or no research to support their effectiveness. You could, unintentionally, reinforce negative behaviors. And some alternative treatments can be potentially dangerous.

Creative therapies. Some parents choose to supplement educational and medical intervention with art therapy or music therapy, which focuses on reducing a child's sensitivity to touch or sound. Sensory-based therapies. These therapies are based on the theory that people with autism have a sensory processing disorder that causes problems tolerating or processing sensory information, such as touch, balance and hearing. Therapists use brushes, squeeze toys, trampolines and other materials to stimulate these senses and organize the sensory system. A sensory processing disorder is not an official diagnosis, and it is not clear if this is even the problem experienced by people with autism. Research has not shown these therapies to be effective, but it's possible they may offer some benefit when used along with other treatments. Special diets. Several diet strategies have been suggested as possible treatments for autism, but more research is necessary to see if they have any effect on autism signs and symptoms. To find out more, talk to a registered dietitian with expertise in autism. Chelation therapy. This treatment is said to remove mercury and other heavy metals from the body. However, there's no known link between mercury and autism. Chelation therapy for autism is not supported by research evidence and can be very dangerous. In some cases, children treated with chelation therapy have died. Acupuncture. This therapy has been used with the goal of improving autism symptoms. However, the effectiveness of acupuncture for autism has not been supported by research.

The goal of treatment is to maximize your child's ability to function by reducing autism symptoms and supporting development and learning. Your doctor can help identify resources in your area. Treatment options may include: Behavior and communication therapies. Many programs address the range of social, language and behavioral difficulties associated with autism. Some programs focus on reducing problem behaviors and teaching new skills. Others focus on teaching children how to act in social situations or how to communicate better with other people. Though children don't always outgrow autism, they may learn to function well. Educational therapies. Children with autism often respond well to highly structured education programs. Successful programs often include a team of specialists and a variety of activities to improve social skills, communication and behavior. Preschool children who receive intensive, individualized behavioral interventions often show good progress. Family therapies. Parents and family members can learn how to play and interact with their children in ways that promote social interaction skills, manage problem behaviors, and teach daily living skills and communication. Medications. No medication can improve the core signs of autism, but certain medications can help control symptoms. For example, antidepressants may be prescribed for anxiety, and antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used to treat severe behavioral problems. Other medications may be prescribed if your child is hyperactive. Managing other medical conditionsChildren with autism may also have other medical conditions, such as epilepsy, sleep disorders, limited food preferences or stomach problems. Ask your child's doctor how to best manage these conditions together. Keep all of your child's health care providers updated on any medications and supplements your child is taking. Some medications and supplements can interact, causing dangerous side effects. Some children show signs of autism in early infancy. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life, but then suddenly become withdrawn or aggressive or lose language skills they've already acquired. Though each child with autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior, these are some common autism symptoms: Social skills Fails to respond to his or her name Has poor eye contact Appears not to hear you at times Resists cuddling and holding Appears unaware of others' feelings Seems to prefer playing alone — retreats into his or her own world Doesn't ask for help or request things Language Doesn't speak or has delayed speech Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences Doesn't make eye contact when making requests Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm — may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech Can't start a conversation or keep one going May repeat words or phrases verbatim, but doesn't understand how to use them Doesn't appear to understand simple questions or directions Behavior Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping Develops specific routines or rituals and becomes disturbed at the slightest change Moves constantly May be fascinated by details of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car, but doesn't understand the "big picture" of the subject May be unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch, and yet oblivious to pain Does not engage in imitative or make-believe play May have odd food preferences, such as eating only a few foods, or craving items that are not food, such as chalk or dirt May perform activities that could cause self-harm, such as headbanging Young children with autism also have a hard time sharing experiences with others. When read to, for example, they're unlikely to point at pictures in the book. This early-developing social skill is crucial to later language and social development. As they mature, some children with autism become more engaged with others and show fewer disturbances in behavior. Some, usually those with the least severe problems, eventually may lead normal or near-normal lives. Others, however, continue to have difficulty with language or social skills, and the teen years can bring worse behavioral problems. Most children with autism are slow to gain new knowledge or skills, and some have signs of lower than normal intelligence. Other children with autism have normal to high intelligence. These children learn quickly, yet have trouble communicating, applying what they know in everyday life and adjusting in social situations. A small number of children with autism are savants — they have exceptional skills in a specific area, such as art, math or music.

Resource SFARI

Mayo Clinic