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Autism is a brain disorder that limits a person's ability to communicate and relate to other people. It first appears in young children, who fall along a spectrum from mild to severe. Some people can navigate their world, some have exceptional abilities, while others struggle to speak. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) affect about one child in 68, striking nearly five times as many boys as girls.
Children with autismappear to approach play differently than typically developing children, a recent study contends.
"Children with autism lack a social component to their play and don't 'adjust' their play accordingly when another is involved," said study co-author Blythe Corbett, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
"For example, they tend to interact less with other children and show a preference to play alone or nearby with objects even when other children are near," she said.
Autism is a developmental disorder in which children have trouble communicating with others and exhibit repetitive or obsessive behaviors. About one in 68 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the new study, researchers conducted a series of experiments with 42 children, aged 8 to 12, who either had an autism spectrum disorder or were typically developing. The investigators collected samples of cortisol, a stress hormone, from the children's saliva before and after playing on the playground with another child.
"The arousal level of the children with autism during play suggests that interaction with peers can be quite stressful," Corbett said. "In this study, we also found a relationship between brain activity during play, behavior and stress level."
All of the children underwent brain scans while playing a computer game in which they believed they were playing a real person half the time and a computer the other half.
"Typical children showed vast differences based on play with human versus computer partners," Corbett said. "While we know that children with autism have difficulty with social play, the current study showed that the brain patterns of children with autism spectrum disorders activate similar brain regions regardless of whether they are playing with a child they met or playing with a computer partner."
One expert said the study, published recently in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, had limitations.
"This study is attempting to provide some level of physiological measure to assess how children with autism spectrum disorders respond differently from neurotypical children during play," said Dr. Glen Elliott, chief psychiatrist and medical director of Children's Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif.
There is considerable overlap among the different forms of autism. The wide variation in symptoms among children with autism, however, has led to the concept of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.
ASDs affect one out of every 68 children in the U.S. They occur more often among boys than girls. While autism appears to be on the rise, it's unclear whether the growing number of diagnoses shows a real increase or comes from improved detection.
Early diagnosis is important. That's because early treatment can help a child with autism make significant gains in language and social skills.
Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorders affect three different areas of a child's life:
- Social interaction
- Communication -- both verbal and non verbal
- Behaviors and interests
Each child with an ASD will have his or her own pattern of autism.
Sometimes, a child's development is delayed from birth. Some children seem to develop normally before they suddenly lose social or language skills. Others show normal development until they have enough language to demonstrate unusual thoughts and preoccupations.
In some children, a loss of language is the major impairment. In others, unusual behaviors (like spending hours lining up toys) seem to to be the dominant factors.
Parents are usually the first to notice something is wrong. But a diagnosis of autism is often delayed. Parents or a physician may downplay early signs of autism, suggesting the symptoms are "just a phase" or a sign of a minor delay in development. Children with a possible autism spectrum disorder, though, should be evaluated by a professional team with experience in diagnosing autism.
Until recently, the types of ASD have been determined by guidelines in the diagnostic manual (DSM - IV) of the American Psychiatric Association. According to the CDC, the three main types of ASD are:
- Asperger's syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
- Autistic disorder
The DSM -IV also included two rare but severe autistic-like conditions -- Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.
The new diagnostic manual has made some major changes in this list of disorders. It's unclear, though, how these changes will affect the way health professionals define exactly what is an autistic spectrum disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of Autism?
A child with autism spectrum disorder may have problems in three different areas -- socializing, communicating, and behavior.
Each child with an autism spectrum disorder will have his or her own individual pattern of behavior: Sometimes, a child's development is delayed from birth; other children develop normally before suddenly losing social or language skills. In some children, a loss of language is the impairment; in others, unusual behaviors (like spending hours lining up toys) predominate.
Parents are usually the first to notice something is wrong. Unfortunately, there is often a significant delay in parents bringing their concerns to the doctor and in doctors referring a child to a specialist. Parents should trust their instincts if they feel their child is not developing normally.
Some red flags are:
- No babbling by 9 months
- No pointing or gestures by 12 months
- Not responding to their name by 12 months of age
- No single words by 16 months
- Lack of pretend play by 18 months
- No two-word phrases by 24 months
- Any loss of language or social skills at any age
Other signs of autism to look for include:
- Extreme difficulty in learning language.
- Inappropriate response to people: A child with autism may avoid eye contact, resist being picked up or cuddled, and seem to tune out the world.
- Inability or reduced ability to play cooperatively with other children or to make friends.
- Inability to understand other people's feelings.
- Need for a rigid, highly structured routine -- and being very distressed by changes in routines
- Extreme hyperactivity or unusual passivity, and extreme resistance to change.
- Aggressive, self-injurious behavior.
- Repetitive body movements, including pacing, hand flicking, twisting, spinning, rocking, or hitting oneself.
- Insensitivity to pain or lack of response to cold or heat.
- Impulsive behavior and no real fear of dangers.
- An unusual attachment to inanimate objects such as toys, strings, or spinning objects.
- Frequent crying and tantrums for no apparent reason.
- Peculiar speech patterns: A child with autism may use words without understanding their meanings.
- Abnormal responses to sensations such as light, sound, and touch: At times, a child with autism may appear deaf or may be extremely distressed by everyday noises or repeat words or phrases over and over.
- Some of these symptoms occur in children with other disabilities. Symptoms can change as the child grows older.
Sumber : MD