Karie R. Shepherd
Ivy Tech Community College
Case Study 15 - Autism In the study of abnormal psychology, the tendency over the years has been to focus on mental health issues and psychological disorders that occur in adults. However, mental health professionals now recognize that certain psychological disorders do affect children and some can be recognized at a very early age in childhood development. One such disorder is autistic disorder, or autism. In the book “Case Studies in Abnormal Psychology” by Gorenstien and Comer we are introduced to a young child named Adam and his family. This case study takes us through noticing Adam’s development issues, his diagnosis of autism, his treatment and also the family struggles of living and managing a child with this disorder.
Symptoms of Autism The diagnosis and treatment of disorders in childhood and adolescents is a relatively new phenomenon. As such, children’s psychological disorders were treated similarly to the way mental health professionals treat adult problems (Comer, 2010). As researchers and clinicians gain a better understanding of disorders in children, treatment can often be more effective than in years past. One childhood disorder that is currently garnering a lot of attention because of its steady increase among children is autism. Autism is considered a psychological disorder and known as a pervasive development disorder that is marked by very distinct symptoms. According to the Autism Society, autism has five clear hallmarks which are the child “does not babble or coo by 12 months, does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months, does not say single words by 16 months, does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 month, has any loss of any language or social skill at any age” (Autism Society-Symptoms, 2013). Two specific language and communication issues involve echolalia, which consists of “the exact echoing of phrases spoken by others” and pronominal reversal, which is “the reversal of pronouns, such as the use of ‘you’ instead of ‘I’”(Gorenstein and Comer, 2002, p. 232). Parents and educators should be cautious when noticing certain symptoms in a child. It is good to point out that severity of these symptoms can be varied from child to child and by having just one or more of these symptoms is not a clear indication that a child has autism. Further testing from a variety of disciplines is the best way to get a proper diagnosis.
Autistic Behaviors and Causes In this case study, Adam’s mother first started to notice his symptoms at his first birthday party. According to his mother, Michelle, she noticed that “Adam was not babbling or forming any specific word sounds, only produced a few noises, and was not as social as the other children” (Gorenstein and Comer, 2002, p. 231). She also noticed other behaviors that were not consistent with normal children such as his limited ability to engage in imaginative or abstract play. As Adam’s behavior grew worse and his inability to communicate or engage in normal social activities, they finally sought help to try and discover what was going on. An appointment with a neurologist confirmed what they already feared and diagnosed him with autism. While autism disorder certainly carries certain symptoms, the cause of autism is still relatively unknown. Theorists have looked at sociocultural, psychological, and biological reasons for this disorder. Comer (2010) discusses that “at first, theorist thought family dysfunction and social stress were the primary causes of autism (p. 575). However, research does very little to support this cause. Some theorists believe that psychological causes, such as “early biological problems prevented proper cognitive development” (Comer, 2010). Most research now points to biological causes and abnormal brain development, specifically in the “cerebellum and in the brain’s temporal and frontal lobes that control language and