Assessment

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WHAT IS AUTISM?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder. Nearly three-quarters of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also have another medical or psychiatric condition. This is called ‘comorbidity’, and the conditions are often called ‘comorbid’ conditions. However, most can be treated. Comorbid conditions, like ADHD, depression and seizure disorders, can appear at any time during a child’s development. Some might not appear until later in adolescence or adulthood. Sometimes these comorbid conditions have symptoms that affect how well ASD therapies and interventions work. So it’s important to identify the conditions and treat them separately.

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Boys are 4 times more diagnosed than girls, mainly due to autistic symptoms overlooked in some girls and women. Liliya John, researcher at Altogether Autism writes “that since the beginning, our understandings of autism have always been from a male perspective and this knowledge gap in terms of gender may have contributed to many females ‘flying under the radar’. Research clearly indicates the possibility of a diagnostic gender bias, meaning females who meet the criteria for autism are at disproportionate risk of not receiving a clinical diagnosis”. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Of children meeting criteria for ASD, the true male-to-female ratio is not 4:1, as is often assumed; rather, it is closer to 3:1. There appears to be a diagnostic gender bias, meaning that girls who meet criteria for ASD are at disproportionate risk of not receiving a clinical diagnosis.”

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There is strong evidence to suggest that autism can be caused by a variety of physical factors, all of which affect brain development. Biological influences play a major role in autism. Autism is not a psychotic disturbance brought on by a mother’s lack of affection, as believed in the 1950’s and 1960’s, by Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist at the University of Chicago and survivor of the Dachau concentration camp. Researchers are trying to determine if they should study mothers of children with autism. There’s a lot of backlash because no parent wants to be blamed for their children’s disabilities. Some scientists believe that autism is caused, at least in part, by genetic factors. Because the genes that are implicated in autism can be passed from parent to child, children in families with autism are more likely to be diagnosed with autism as well. However, having a parent or sibling diagnosed with autism does not guarantee that you will have autism as well. No single gene is implemented in autism. Variations in almost 300 genes have been associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and less than 10% of individuals with autism express a known genetic risk factor. In addition, environmental factors can regulate gene expression. Autism involves the combined impact of several genes, and different genes may be involved in autism in different families and individuals.

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