mystery of autism has long eluded people in the medical and education profession. Millions of people around the world suffer from the disorder and seek treatment for it each year. Since the discovery of the disorder a plethora of research has been conducted but there is still very little that is known about the origins of autism or effective treatments to combat the effects of the disorder.
The purpose of this discussion is to explore autism and the current trends in education that provide treatment for the disorder. We will provide a literary review which will detail information from sources such as Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, ERIC Digest and the American Journal on Mental Retardation. These are scholarly journals that provide insight on the disorder.
This topic was chosen because of the challenges that educators face in addressing the needs of students with autism. Autism is a serious disorder that often leaves those who suffer from it in a world of isolation. This discussion will attempt to explore the methods that can be used to rescue autistic people from such isolation. Let's begin by defining autism.
The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine defines autism as, a severe disorder of brain function which is characterized by difficulties with social contact, intelligence and language. Many who suffer with autism also experience compulsive behavior and peculiar reactions to their surroundings. (Turkington, 1999) The disorder is usually diagnosed within the first three years of life and occurs most often in male children. (Turkington, 1999)
An article in Eric Digest entitled "Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder" asserts that there is no known cause of autism although the medical world has concluded that there are multiple factors that lead to the development of the disorder. (Dunlap, 1999) It is estimated that 2 persons in 1000 suffer from autism and it is believed that about 500,000 Americans have the disorder. According to the article there are no known distinctions among different ethnicities or economic backgrounds. However, there have been instances where clusters of autism have occurred in certain area of the country which indicates that there may be some environmental contaminates that contribute to the development of the disease. (Dunlap, 1999)
According to Dunlap (1999) the behavioral description of the disorder includes difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, play and leisure activities and social interaction. The article also asserts that autistic people display a resistance to change and dislike for their daily routines to be disturbed. (Dunlap, 1999) People with autism commonly have uncontrollable tantrums and display aggressive behaviors. Another characteristic of autism is the ability to excel in one area such as math, music or art. (Dunlap, 1999)
As far as education for the autistic ERIC Digest asserts that there is no form of treatment that works for all autistic people. The article explains that most autistic individuals perform best in an educational environment that is tailored to meet their individual needs. (Dunlap, 1999) The educational environment for an autistic individual should include picture schedules and should promote strategies to improve communications and social skills. (Dunlap, 1999)
Pediatrics the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that pediatricians should play an active role in diagnosing and treating the disorder. The journal asserts that the occurrences have autism seem to be increasing in the United States. The article discusses some of the treatments that are available for pediatricians to treat autistic children.
The article entitled "The Pediatrician's Role in the Diagnosis and Management of Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Children" concedes that there is no single effective treatment for autism. Instead doctors must find ways to treat individual cases according to patients' needs and abilities. Pediatrics reports that the treatments for the disorder include the development of social, adaptive, communications and academic skills. The journal also suggests that pediatricians attempt to decrease the amount of repetitive and maladaptive behaviors that many autistic people display.
The Pediatrics journal list seven strategies for treating autism. The first of which is parental education and support. This strategy is designed to aid parents in understanding the disorder better so that they can get the appropriate help for their child. The second strategy is early intervention which is designed for children three and under. This strategy aids children by providing occupational and physical therapy along with structured social play. The third strategy is school-based special education which provides the patient with specialized care. The other four strategies include behavior management, medical treatment, community services and alternative therapies.
The Alternative Medicine Review writes that autism is an extreme challenge to integrative medicine.
The article discussed some of medical characteristics of people who are autistic. The article found that most who suffer from autism have problems with the detoxification of the liver which indicates that environmental pollutants may contribute to the development of autism.(Kidd, 2002)
Edelson and Cantor reported in 1988 that a group of 20 autistic children, ages 3-12, exhibited abnormal liver detoxification profiles. Blood analyses for identification of specific xenobiotic agents revealed toxic overload, defined as significantly in excess of the established adult acceptable maximum values, in 16 of 18 of these children. Subsequently this sample population was expanded to include 56 children, 43 males and 13 females, mean age 6.54 years. All 56 subjects had abnormally high heavy metal burden; of these, 55 expressed liver detoxification malfunctions and 53 had one or more toxic chemicals in excess of the adult maximum reference range.(Kidd, 2002)
The Review concluded that environmental pollutants such as pesticides, herbicides and fumigants may cause the increase in toxic liver levels and contribute to developmental delays and ultimately autism. (Kidd, 2002)The article notes that these pesticides and herbicides are often sprayed in places where young children and infants live and can have a detrimental effect on the development of an infant's brain. (Kidd, 2002)
In addition the article asserts that the modern day household often holds pollutants. These pollutants include chemicals that are embedded in carpeting and the walls of a home. (Kidd, 2002) The article also list molds, dust, lead-based paints and radon as factors that may contribute to developmental delay in infants. (Kidd, 2002)
The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics published an article entitled "Placebo Effects in Autism: Lessons from Secretin." The article discussed a study explored the effects of Secretin and a placebo in treating autism. Secretin is a drug that is commonly used to treat the effects of autism. A placebo is "any therapy, prescribed knowingly or unknowingly by a healer, or used by laymen, for its therapeutic effect on a symptom or disease, but which is actually ineffective or not specifically effective for the symptom or disorder."(Sandler, 2000)
The study found that Secretin had no greater effect in treating patients than the placebo. Researchers discovered that subjects in both the Secretin and placebo groups experienced a 30% improvement after injection. (Sandler, 2000) These improvements were evident in areas such as repetitive movement and eye contact. In addition there were noticeable changes in the sleeping patterns and communication. (Sandler, 2000)
Researchers concluded that the placebo effect is actually a result of parent's expectations. This conclusion was made because it is believed that autistic people can not produce the placebo effect themselves. (Sandler, 2000) Researchers contend that the placebo effect produced by parents and caregivers aid in the improvements that the autistic subjects experienced. (Sandler, 2000) The study also concluded that the use of Secretin may not be necessary or effective in treating autistic behaviors.
The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics discusses a study conducted with 40 preschool children from age two to five. Twenty of the students were autistic while the other 20 had developmental delays. The students were tested on their nonverbal cognitive abilities and three separate experiments were conducted.
The first experiment found that children that suffer from autism had inconsistent responses to "both the experimenter's bids for attention and direction of gaze."(CLG, 2000) This led researchers to conclude that autistic children have difficulties picking up on nonverbal clues and body language. The second experiment which involved 19 of the children; eleven in this group were autistic. During this experiment "a nonhuman cue was used and, across trials, the autistic children responded better than the control children." (CLG, 2000) In the third and final experiment researchers found that autistic children responded in the same manner as the control children when turning their attention to a peripheral target. (CLG, 2000) Moreover the autistic children were faster in responding to the target. (CLG, 2000)
Overall results seem to indicate that there is a specific developmental delay in children with autism that is associated with their reliance on the presence of objects in their visual field to guide their action."(CLG 2000) This explains the need for autistic people to stick to routines and schedules. The study found that objects aid autistic people in every day life and that these objects provide them with the necessary visual clues to behave or perform certain actions.