Friday, December 26, 2014

Autism Spectrum Disorders by Ana Maria Rodriguez

 Written for USA Today's readership, this book scans at  perhaps a middle school reading level, but that works out well, as I was really only interested in getting a basic picture of the subject of ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorders, diagnoses of which seem to have grown in leaps and bounds over the last few decades. The book explains that this phenomenon isn't a symptom of greater incidence of the affliction, but rather of an expanded definition and acceptance of a wider suite of symptoms by psychological authorities.

"In fact, the majority of the scientific community agrees that no autism epidemic exists. Expert Dr. Eric Fombonne at McGill University in Canada has worked in several autism prevalence studies. Frombone says that one of the main factors behind the rise in the number of case is that the medical definition of ASD has expanded over the years."

At the most severe end of the spectrum is classical autism, while various shades of Asperger's Syndrome are at the less disabling end.

"People with an autism disorder in any degree of its severity have developed a mind that works differently than most people's minds. In consequence, they do not see the world, learn from the world, and think and act in the world in the same way most people do."

To be diagnosed with ASD,

"an individual must show some mild to severe impairment in all three of the following areas: 1) Communication, 2) socialization, and 3) repetitive behaviors and restricted interests."

Sounds a great deal like the guest list of a typical party in my best friend's basement in the 70s.

There are some peripheral symptoms which also may occur:

"...25 percent of people with ASD also have developmental delays. present in nearly one-third of individuals with ASD. Other conditions associated with ASD include digestive problems, immune problems, and a reduced ability of the liver to eliminate toxins."

Autism was first identified as a psychological disease in the 1940s by Leo Kanner, who worked with children at Johns Hopkins. In 1944, Hans Asperger published a report about what became known as Asperger's syndrome, but it wasn't widely available in the U.S. until it was translated from German in 1981 (coincidentally the start of the "epidemic"). The main difference between Kanner's autistic children and Asperger's children was that Kanner's children "either lacked speech or had an unusual way of using it, such as reversing pronouns or echolalia (repeating back what others have said to them without understanding the meaning)."

Autism affects more boys than girls.

A very rare condition called Savant Syndrome is sometimes associated with autism, as depicted by Dustin Hoffman's character Raymond in Rain Man.

Lots of good information here for people who suspect their children might be affected by ASD on getting diagnoses and treatment. My interest was more one of casual curiosity.

ASD appears to be genetically caused, and linked to differences in the development of the brain in children, especially in the amygdala, which in children with ASD grow faster but have significantly fewer neurons than in normal children. Other areas in the cerebellum may also be affected.

"When people without ASD perform this task (shape recognition) a particular group of neurons on the cortex fires an electrical signal at the same time. Researchers record this brain electrical activity as a gamma band (a pattern of brain waves) in an EEG.

As people practice a task, they get better at it. And when they get better at it, the brain activity changes. The gamma band in their EEG becomes smaller. This shows that fewer specialized neurons have become involved in distinguishing between shapes. The brain becomes more efficient at finishing the task.

In people with ASD...the gamma bands do not get small as the tasks are practiced. Instead, the bands stay the same."

An interesting new term I just picked up here - theory of mind.

"The awareness that other people have beliefs and desires different from our own has been called theory of mind...refers to a cognitive process that allows people to understand someone else's perspective, or point of view."

Many teens with autism lack the theory of mind.

Researchers have proven that autism is primarily genetic, with some environmental factors that contribute. The idea that vaccinations cause autism has been pretty thoroughly debunked, shrill celebrity advocates of the theory notwithstanding.

A good book to read for a layman's perspective on ASD. Quick and easy to follow.

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