Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cases are increasing at an alarming rate, with 1 in 68 children being diagnosed with ASD according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.
The reasons are multifactorial including an increase in community awareness (thus seeking diagnosis) of ASD, changing diagnostic criteria, genetics, environmental chemical exposures, biochemical and metabolic disorders, nutritional imbalances, chronic infections, immune dysfunction and heavy metal toxicities. All of these, and likely others, are contributing to and in some cases causing ASD.
Autism is more than a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is a multi-system disorder involving the digestive, immune, biochemical, hormone, and detoxification systems that affect the brain.
Autism usually presents in the first three years of life. It is defined by difficulties in communication and language skills, imaginative play and social interaction.
Children with Autism often show signs of attention difficulties, hyperactivity, obsessive traits, tics and / or sleep disorders. They may either display an absence of reaction or an overreaction to sound or pain with distress. When playing, they show a lack of meaningful ‘pretend play’ and display a restricted repertoire of play skills.
With social skills, they are unable to relate to others in a meaningful way, including poor eye contact. When it comes to their communication skills, they show poor receptive and expressive language, including lack of vocalisations.
Children with Autism may show sensory integration difficulties and these may present in the following ways:
- Avoidance of touching certain textures such as sand, certain clothing, as well as textures of foods, resulting in a picky eater.
- Some children use excessive touch to gain information from their environment, including touching all things around them, carrying certain objects around with them (e.g. a piece of soft material) or needing to mouth things constantly.
- Sensitivity or abnormal response to light and / or sound. These children are seen to cover their ears in class or make noises in class while working to control outside sound and to assist with their concentration.
- High activity levels and movement seeking such as rocking, hand flapping.
- Poor or delayed development of gross motor and fine motor skills.
- Poor concentration and attention to the task at hand.
Interventions by Occupational Therapists with Sensory Integration training would focus on initially reducing the sensitivity or over reaction to sensory stimuli such as light, sound, touch and movement. These symptoms may be reduced by therapy but may continue to be present, thus ongoing therapeutic input may be required for some time. Movement seeking behaviours (rocking and spinning) will be provided in a more controlled and socially appropriate manner. This may help decrease these behaviours in other situations.
Environmental adaptations at school and or home would be recommended, such as:
- Lighting: dim lighting to assist with calming.
- Colours: blues and greens to enhance calming effects.
- Noise levels: soft classical music to calm.
Everyday medical research is discovering more about various influences that predispose a child to becoming afflicted with Autism.
There are excellent treatments already available to help address many of the complex health issues that children with ASD face.
The field of biomedicine for Autism, involves treating the digestive, metabolic, hormone and biochemical systems. This has proven very effective and has been practiced for decades with the assistance of organisations such as the Autism Research Institute, Generation Rescue and Talk About Curing Autism.
The holistic treatment of the ASD child involving different therapeutic modalities will see a significant change and improvement in the child.