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Autism

1 Jun 2009 9:27 PM - Dr Roger Morris

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which includes Autism and Aspergers syndrome, is a neuro-biological disorder that has severe impacts on how a person communicates, socialises with others, processes information from his/her senses and adapts to his/her environment. These deficits often lead to behaviours such as:

  1. Rigid adherence to routines
  2. Fixation on objects or topics
  3. Withdrawal
  4. Aggression
  5. Bizarre of repetitive body movements

ASD can have a profound and complicated impact on everyday life for affected people. The condition affects about one in every 250 people and affects 4 boys for every girl. People with ASD may present with a range of intellectual abilities, from profound intellectual disability to normal intellect and, in some cases, gifted. The underlying cause is not fully understood and there is, as yet, no cure. There is no link with childhood immunisation, in particular no link with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) immunisation. One excellent and reassuring study to support this was published in the well-regarded international medical journal, The Lancet, in 1999 (Vol. 353, 12/06/1999, 2026-2029). The emphasis in treatment is on early diagnosis which then allows early, individualised, highly-structured therapy.

ASD involves a severe communication deficit, which can manifest in troubles in using or understanding verbal language, body language, facial expression, tone of voice and gestures. The disorder also involves a severe socialisation deficit, making it difficult for others to interact with autistic people in meaningful ways, due to their reluctance to give eye contact, their apparent lack of desire to share activities with others and their appearance of extreme isolation. People with ASD may appear to have great difficulty in processing sensory information – their sensory organs are usually normal, but the information is not able to be processed normally by the brain. Due to the impact of these three areas of deficit already described, ASD also involves a severe deficit in adaption to the environment, resulting in extreme difficulties in interpreting and processing new information. Thus these people find it less stressful and more comfortable to maintain a constant, predictable and unchanging environment.

The first step in the diagnostic process is to see your local doctor for initial assessment and possible referral to a consultant paediatrician, child psychiatrist or paediatric neurologist. Assessments can take the form of either a brief screening assessment or a more detailed comprehensive assessment which involves in-depth assessment of particular aspects of development and interactions. If your child is diagnosed with ASD, you can apply for the child to become a client of Autism Queensland, which provides full access to Autism Qld’s full range of services. Autism Queensland has been providing targeted early intervention programs for ASD for over 25 years. Autism Qld now provides a range of services to support young children with ASD and their families. These services include therapy and education input, advisory support, information, training and family support.

For more information see http://www.autismqld.com.au/index.html