November 6, 2012
Introduction to Psychology Section 034
Currently, one in every 88 children that are born today is born with an autism spectrum disorder. This is alarming after you take into account that in 2000 that number was much higher at one in every 250 children. Autism is defined as a hereditary developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication along with social interaction, abstract thinking, sensory perception and awareness. The disability last for a lifetime and is typically diagnosed in early childhood. Even with startling 1,148% growth rate due to increased awareness of ASDs, many people still maintain a lack of knowledge of the disabilities and individuals affected by them. Many people don’t even understand what it means to be autistic or have an autism spectrum disorder. Along with impaired development and social interaction, they also possess a restricted list of activities in which they can perform along with an extreme lack of interest. In terms of communication, those affected may show impairment in eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body postures. They may have delayed or a total lack in the development of a spoken language. Even if one affected by ASD is able to fully develop a spoken language they may struggle with initiating and/or keeping a normal conversation going. Failure to develop peer relationships is a major impairment that may be displayed by a student affected with an ASD. Many people associate repetitive movements with ASDs and although such behaviors may be developed it is not necessarily required to be classified as one affected.
No single factor causes autism. There are relationships between autism and brain activity, brain chemicals, environmental factors, genetics and brain structure. According to recent studies, developing children affected by autism do not use their brain in the same way as a typical developing child. In fact, those affected by autism do not daydream. They also do not process faces the same as a normal brain; however, we do not know what causes these differences. Chemicals in the brain release signals allowing it to function and process information correctly. If we are able to understand which transmitters are problematic it may lead to treatments for autism that may be effective. Brain structure has also been an interesting common symptom among those affected. Although at birth the babies’ heads are normally shaped and of normal size, they tend to grow disproportionate to the rest of the body among the first three years of life. However, by adulthood, the patients’ heads have become normal size once again. Also, autism is hereditary. This means that children born into families that have a history of autism are more at risk of developing the disability. Mutations in three specific genes have been linked to autism. As these genes are continued to be studied, it can lead to earlier detection along with the development of drugs and the advancement of any autism treatments. Many scientists use the term “short circuits” to describe the brain chemicals in the brain of an individual affected by an ASD. Researchers believe that problems occur from neurons trying to find their place in the brain system starting before the child is even born all the way up until they reach the age of two or three. The research for the neurons correlates with the symptom of enlarged heads among affected children. Until the age of three, children possessing an ASD show a symptom where their heads grow at a faster rate than the rest of their body. A hypothesis for why the development of larger heads may occur is that fewer neurons are pruned in the brains. Pruning is a process that sculpts sophisticated neural circuitry or cutting off old connections of synapses to increase the strength of strong connections and eliminate weaker