There seems to be more and more media coverage on autism nowadays, and with good reason. According to the advocacy group, Autism Speaks, autism and related conditions are now the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States and other countries around the world are reporting similar numbers. It effects around one in every one hundred and ten children, with boys four times as likely to develop it as girls.
It is important to understand a little about this complex disease and to be able recognize the symptoms so that you can seek help as soon as possible. Multiple studies have shown that children who receive intensive interventions earlier often show great improvement in social, learning and communication skills and can often even be mainstreamed into the classroom when they reach school age. That is why it is so vital for parents to be aware of signs and causes of this disease.
Autism is an umbrella terms for several disorders that fall into the category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders or PDD’s. This also includes Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. There is no known definite cause, but there is a suspected genetic component and the disorder often can run in families. Other believe that there is a combination of genetic and environmental factors at work.
Autism Signs and Symptoms
Autism is marked by a number of common traits. These include the need for repeated rituals, compulsive behaviors, tantrums and repetition of motor activities, such as head-banging, flapping arms, rocking back and forth, tapping or spinning. Yelling, grinding teeth or grunting are other obvious outward symptoms of this disorder.
Early signs of autism can be detected even in babies under the age of one. This can include not smiling or laughing, not making eye contact and delays in pre-speech (babbling or cooing) or speech.
Treatment and Diet for Autism
Autism therapy will usually focus on behavioral and cognitive interventions to help increase the child’s social, language and cognitive skills. Medication will also sometimes be used. There are also natural therapies, like diet therapy, that seem to have a beneficial impact on the disorder.
While this is still controversial, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence to suggest that children with autism can benefit from a special diet, usually one which eliminates gluten and casein. Gluten is a protein most notably found in wheat and wheat products, as well as other grains like barley and rye. Casein, on the other hand, is found in dairy products including milk, cheese, butter and yogurt.
Advocates of this diet point to the fact that a link has been discovered between autism and an impaired immune system which does not tolerate the proteins mentioned above. In response to foods that contain gluten or casein, the bodies of autism children produce peptides, which act upon the brain like opiates and can produce the strange, repetitive behaviors that are a hallmark of this disorder.
Supplementation of certain nutrients also seem to have a positive effect on autism, including digestive enzymes, melatonin, B-complex vitamins and cod liver oil.
If you suspect that your child might have a problem, talk to your pediatrician right away. Early interventions can make an enormous difference for children with this disorder.
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