Not until the middle of the twentieth century was there a name for a disorder that now appears to affect an estimated one of every five hundred children, a disorder that causes disruption in families and unfulfilled lives for many children.
In 1943, Dr. Leo Kanner of The Johns Hopkins Hospital studied a group of 11 children and introduced the label early infantile autism into the English language. At the same time a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that became known as Asperger syndrome.
These disorders are two of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), today more often referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). All these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. See autism symptoms for more information.
The autism spectrum disorders often can be detected reliably by the age of 3 years, and in some cases as early as 18 months. Studies suggest that many children eventually may be accurately identified by the age of 1 year or even younger. The appearance of any of the warning signs of autism spectrum disorders is reason to have a child evaluated by a professional specializing in these disorders.
What Are the Autism Spectrum Disorders?
The autism spectrum disorders are more common in the pediatric population than are some better known disorders such as diabetes, spina bifida, or Down syndrome. Prevalence estimates range from 2 to 6 per 1,000 children. This wide range of prevalence points to a need for earlier and more accurate screening for the symptoms of ASD. The earlier the disorder is diagnosed, the sooner the child can be helped through treatment interventions. Although early intervention has a dramatic impact on reducing symptoms and increasing a child's ability to grow and learn new skills, it is estimated that only 50 percent of children are diagnosed before kindergarten.
All children with ASD demonstrate deficits in:
- social interaction
- verbal and nonverbal communication
- repetitive behaviors or interests
In addition, they often will have unusual responses to sensory experiences, such as certain sounds or the way objects look. Each of these symptoms runs the gamut from mild to severe. They will present in each child differently. For instance, a child may have little trouble learning to read but exhibit extremely poor social interaction. Each child will display communication, social, and behavioral patterns that are individual but fit into the overall diagnosis of ASD.
Studies indicate that metal toxicity can be a cause in autism spectrum disorders.
Empirical studies demonstrate that vaccine reactions appear to play a role in ASD, as perhaps does mercury poisoning and leaky gut or other intestinal dysfunctions.
Hair analysis is a simple and inexpensive way of determining mercury toxicity and other dysfunctions associated with autism symptoms.
Most autistic children's hair analyses reveal a slow oxidation pattern, often a low sodium/potassium ratio (which can be associated with digestive disorders), and often copper imbalances (which can impair mental function). Other toxic metals such as mercury may be present.
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