Autism is what we might call a “hot-button issue” presently. There is a lot of press and media coverage concerning this childhood disorder, and there is a lot of misinformation floating around as well. Recent changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) have further confused many people, including parents who might be facing this issue. There is also help available in terms of tax credit. You can read more about child disability benefits.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
In the recent change of the DSM, four diagnoses (autism disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive development disorder, and childhood disintegrative disorder) were rolled into one diagnosis now known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
The reasoning behind this was to avoid confusion between these four diagnoses, and to, instead, create one disorder with a continuum. Children with ASD show symptoms of:
- Social and communication deficits
- Difficulty making friends
- Misreading nonverbal cues
- High dependence on routine
- Sensitivity to changes in environment
- Focus on inappropriate items
Children with autism show these symptoms in varying degrees from very severe (complete loss of language and inability to deal with slight changes in routine) to mild symptoms (not understanding sarcasm, and feeling anxiety when faced with drastic routine changes). A child who is considered to have “high-functioning autism” exhibits these symptoms, but is able to work through them with therapy and support from home.
A Family Diagnosis
Children are diagnosed with ASD in early childhood, usually before the age of three. This means that their caretakers typically take on huge responsibility to provide as much support as possible for the child. Financially, this can be taxing, and the Canadian government does offer a child disability tax credit to assist with the financial burden.
Often, other children in the home can feel neglected because of the high priority of the child with ASD, and this can lead to resentment. Parents should make special efforts with the other children to prevent this from happening. Individual and family counseling can teach everyone in the family unit appropriate coping skills to help alleviate these problems.
Some people think that children with ASD are stupid or intellectually inferior; others assume that all children with ASD are greatly gifted and “savants.” Neither of these assumptions is true. Autism is not related to intelligence. It is a communication disorder. Those with more severe ASD might have trouble attending school, working a job, or even speaking.
However, children with high-functioning autism can often learn to regulate their emotions, interact appropriately with others, become fully integrated into classrooms, go to college, and hold jobs.
Because autism diagnoses have drastically increased in the past few decades—1 in 88 children are now diagnosed with ASD—there is a lot of money being spent on autism research. At the current moment, there is no “cure” for ASD, but there are many theories and studies that seek to improve the child’s quality of life. Some noteworthy studies are:
- Diet: Some studies suggest that processed foods contribute to autism symptoms, and cutting these out can make a significant difference. There are also studies that suggest gluten and dairy might play a role as well.
- Hyperbaric Therapy: Hyperbaric chambers that increase the pressure and oxygen within the chamber have been shown, in some cases, to stimulate certain areas in children with ASD.
- Movement Research: Computerized studies are now being conducted in the US to track how a child moves. This movement “signature” can help pinpoint certain strengths and weaknesses in the child’s development, which can lead to more specific and goal-oriented therapies, thus increasing the likelihood of the child to become higher functioning.
Cases of high-functioning autism are growing. More cases of autism are being diagnosed, but with developing and continued therapy, many children can be considered high functioning. The increased focus on autism research is furthering the chances for these children to lead near-normal lives.
For more information: Autism Ontario