For a disorder that has been so publicized, very little is actually known about autism and the reasons behind its crippling life-long effects. With the number of diagnosed autism patients rising at an unbelievable pace, researchers are rushing to discover a way to bring the patients who seem to be lost "in their own world" (Caronna and Tager-Flusberg, 2007) back to reality. Risk factors, symptoms, effects on language, therapy and medication, and ongoing research will all be discussed in hopes of educating new and pre-existing families and friends of autism patients. In a general sense, autism is a severe developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed before the age of three, and usually involves untreatable mental retardation and communication problems throughout the patient's life. But leading research has concluded that early diagnosis could be the deciding factor in the level of severity of the disorder; therefore all hope lies in the hands of new diagnosis procedures.
In order to ensure early detection, people must be aware of autism's risk factors and symptoms. The numbers of autism cases has been rising primarily due to the discovery that autism can be prevalent even in people who have average IQs and the rates can be as high as 60 per 10,000 (Charman, 2005). The people with the largest chances of being born with the disorder are family members of current autism patients; new studies have found that the reoccurrence rate in families can be as high as 10%. This genetic disorder is also 4 times as likely to strike the male population, even though the reasons behind this are still unknown. The primary tell-tale symptoms of autism that all researchers agree on are impairments in communication and interaction with others and repetitive motor movements and speech. Another key symptom is the lack of joint attention, which is a failure to develop the skill of sharing an experience with a person by following their gaze or to the object their pointing to. This is a very basic skill that is necessary for further mental development and usually develops by the first birthday in normal children. Without early detection, crucial months of development pass without any progress since the child struggles with taking in new information. Other symptoms that follow this is the lack of babbling, no motivation to communicate, strange repetitive noises such as groaning and screeching, not responding when name is called, and the very stereotypical occurrence of echolalia. Echolalia is when the autistic child will spontaneously and repetitively repeat large chunks of commercials or conversations, sometimes as an indirect method of communicating with others (Caronna and Tager-Flusberg, 473). For example, repeating "are you hungry?" from a past conversation, or repeating a pizza ad, could be the child's way of letting others know about his or her needs.
In fact, autism has a severely debilitating effect on language expression and comprehension. Even patients with high functioning autism (HFA) who have gone through extensive training, still never manage to overcome some factors of communication; primarily pragmatics and prosody. For instance, when compared to normal children in an experiment, autistic children made twice the amount of mistakes regarding which segment of the word to stress (Cohen and Remillard, 2006). Even though the pattern of word acquisition is very similar to normal children, the grammar and order of words remains atypical. Current research states that this is most likely caused by the lack of joint attention; making syntax difficult since the two have a positive correlation to each other. While autistic patients can learn many words, they specifically struggle with terms that can have multiple meanings or relate to emotions.
With such serious communication problems, merging with the rest of society is difficult for autistic people. Leading medications are still experimental, but have the possibility to increase quality of life. Obsessive compulsive behaviors can be reduced with clomipramine and hyperactivity can be controlled with neuroleptics (Charman, 84). But currently, the main treatment used is based on different therapy methods. Music therapy is gaining popularity and stimulates social interaction within autistic children by allowing them to listen and play instruments together without having the pressure to form speech (Autism PDD). Motion therapy is another form that is the platform of many other techniques. It involves allowing an autistic patient to participate in motion-orientated activities, such as boat rides, playing with exercise balls, playground swings, etc. Motion therapy calms the patient and makes them more cooperative while increasing their sensory intake abilities (Matthews, 2009).
Experimental research is going beyond just treatment and therapy for the disorder, but is trying to find methods of eradicating the disorder during its initial stages of development. Amaral, a researcher, paved the way with his discovery that autism can be detected in blood samples. Though his work is very controversial, if proven accurate, it could make diagnosis of autism possible even during the infant stages of brain development. This experiment is being continued with a more broad variety of tests and even larger amount of test participants, and has come to be known as the Autism Phenome Project.
While many options for medication and therapy exist, it is essential to keep the importance of time frame in mind. According to Cohen and Remillard, onset of speech and joint attention abilities before the age of five usually lead to an improved prognosis. The progression of research in the area of autism testing will hopefully lead to diagnosis of the disorder as early as infancy; which might cause exponential recovery of abilities since today's diagnosis rarely happen before the age of three. During the first year of life, the brain is going through a critical period of developing and pruning neurons, therefore if treatment can be applied during this period, autism patients will finally have hope of significantly improving their condition, and maybe one day being cured from it completely.
Yes, this is very strong. I don't see any errors, though I would like to see you use more active verbs and avoid trite and passive constructions such as "it is essential." I'd also like to see a stronger conclusion but, truly, this is quite good.
Interesting last sentence. So, you are saying that research might break the connection between autistic and non-autistic people, so that no communication at all is possible? Or do you mean that "With such high intellectual potential in autistic children, research might finally bridge the gap between their world and ours"?