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CHALLENGES AND CAUSES OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS Challenges and Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders In 1978 a normal baby girl named Violet was born into a loving family of five older children. Coddled and spoiled as new babies are by their parents and siblings, Violet initially
appeared to be a healthy and happy child. By one year of age, however, that health and happiness was being thrust into question. Violet appeared to be developing slower than other children. Rather than crawling and eventually walking, she continued to scoot herself across the floor. She wouldn't track sounds with her eyes or turn toward noises. She didn't like toys. She couldn't be comforted when she cried, but instead cried herself to sleep or exhaustion. At age two and still not walking, Violet's communication skills appeared to be regressing. Where before she had had a vocabulary of about twenty words and used two or three word phrases, she now appeared to be forgetting how to formulate phrases and began reverting to using only a few words. By age three Violet's attempts at verbal communication were so frustrating that she stopped trying and began acting out physically. She didn't look other people in the eyes. She had only barely learned to walk, and potty training was an act of futility. She refused to eat with utensils, instead shoveling handful after handful of food into her mouth, and never becoming sated. Doctors were baffled. Countless and costly healthcare visits resulted in conflicting answers to Violet's condition, ranging from deafness or cerebral palsy to simple immaturity. The school system did not understand how to help Violet either. Although she was placed in special education classrooms, she was often left to herself to play with blocks or simple puzzles. Violet's parents and family were frustrated and eventually Violet's mother, Carol, began researching explanations on her own. It was only by chance, however, that she met another women who told her that Violet's symptoms were strikingly similar to those of another child with whom she was
CHALLENGES AND CAUSES OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS acquainted. The woman gave Carol a checklist of twelve symptoms of autism, nine of which Carol was able to positively identify in Violet's behavior. Armed with this new information, Carol brought her findings to Violet's healthcare providers. Eventually, Violet was given an official diagnosis of severe autistic disorder. The above anecdote is true, and the author of this paper, April Irwin, is Violet's younger sister, the seventh child in the family and born two years after her sister Violet. This paper is an
attempt to answer questions that have intrigued the author since childhood, a childhood in which she witnessed her parents and family struggle with understanding a disorder that was greatly misunderstood and misdiagnosed at the time. We will attempt to define autism and autismspectrum disorders, explore the signs and symptoms and investigate the theories and controversies surrounding suspected causes of autism and it's related disorders. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) states that the diagnosis of autism and autism spectrum disorders is on the rise, with six out of every one hundred and fifty children at risk (Autism Fact Sheet, 2009). It is unclear whether this rise is associated with a heightened awareness and earlier diagnosis of autism, or if the actual incidence of the disorder is growing within the population. What is clear is that autism is affecting thousands of families every year and with that growth in numbers, more research into the causes and potential treatments is needed. NINDS points to autism as a range of disorders with a common hallmark of impaired social interaction. Conditions associated with autism are placed...
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