Great Smokies Medical Center of Asheville

Autism: An Overview

The word autism is derived from the Greek word "autos," meaning self. It was first used medically in the 1930s to describe a puzzling, self-absorbed behavioral disorder. The term autism is used now to describe a spectrum of illnesses called Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that includes classic autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), and Asperger’s Syndrome.
The prevalence of autism has risen dramatically in the last decades. National Institutes of Health (NIH) statistics reveal that the prevalence of autism in the United States ranges from one in every 500 to 2,500 (depending on how autism is defined), numbers markedly increased from one per 30,000 in the 1980s.
About 83 percent of autistics are male. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 44 months. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical and tip the odds toward improved outcomes.
Autism has been described as a puzzle. Typically starting in the first three years of life, it affects neurological, immune, and social functioning. Autism stresses a family psychologically (from trying to cope with a complex, serious disease) and financially (from special education, social, and medical needs).
Some pieces of this tragic puzzle have been found during the last 20 years, taking autism from its originally restrictive psychiatric definition to its more rightful classification as a complex, biological, neurotoxic condition resulting from an interplay between genetics and the environment.
Each autistic child is unique in his expression of autism. In general, however, autistic children seem to be off in their own world. Some are advanced in gross and/or fine motor skills, while others may be normal or delayed. They may have either heightened or decreased responses to sensory input. Autistics live in a world where normal sounds may be painful, light touch may be painful, and firm, hard pressure may be comforting.
Some autistics may not do well with change and may find comfort in rigid routines or perform repetitious activities, a trait called perseveration. Repetitive behaviors including hand flapping, finger flicking, head banging or rocking, can result. A small number of autistics will have exceptional ability in specific areas such as mathematics or music, a condition called Savant Syndrome. Autistics often have some level of cognitive deficit.
Treatment of autism consists of intensive behavioral approaches such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), pharmaceuticals, speech therapy, auditory integration, neurosensory integration, and special education settings. Alternative medical therapies targeted to address the deficits occurring from the impaired ability to detoxify environmental and metabolic toxins include nutrient-dense diets, vitamin B12, glutathione, magnesium, pyridoxine, carnosine, zinc, folate, cod liver oil, essential fatty acids, probiotics, homeopathics, and chelation therapy.
Autism is a complex illness that involves the gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems. The biological treatment of autism is similarly complex and can take place over two years, in addition to ongoing support of biological processes.
Though there is no cure for autism, autistics can maximize their potential through enhanced detoxification and other supportive biological approaches from physicians who are specially trained in metabolic, nutritional, and chelation therapies.

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