What Autism Is And What Autism Is Not

What is Autism? Actually, I am reluctant to provide a solid definition of what autism is. Science and the Internet are abuzz with so many extremely vague and very different definitions.

I’m not about to deliver the one and ultimately correct definition of autism. It is my intention to take a stand: if you have to define what autism is, then you should do it in a way that respects autistic people and takes them as they are.

I personally have come to the conclusion that it is not so important what autism is and whether autism is – but that is a path that everyone must walk for themselves.

Dozens of children with autism lose therapy grants in Spain.

  • The Ministry of education argues that the kids are already being treated in their schools
valencia-autism-center

A therapy session for children with autism in a Valencia center.

The Ministry of education is denying aid that until now was paid to students with autism for special pedagogical retraining and language classes. Dozens of families in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) who have not received the aid this school year are trying to reverse the situation by sending the therapy bills and certificates from operators of support centers. After the denunciation of these families, the El Pais newspaper has contacted several associations in all Spain and has found the case of 15 of the Spanish Federation of autism-FESPAU groups, which had asked 20,000 euros each for these therapies. For the first time they have denied them also and are waiting to know the reason. The organizations are located in Murcia, Madrid, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, Cordoba and Santander.

Schools have to sign a paper calling for help after school

Not receiving the necessary therapy can take a person with autism back in their evolution and make them lose quality of life. The Ministry argues they already receiving enough help in the special centres they attend. Families continue to benefit from the NNEE (special needs) grants dedicated to help in material (up to 204 euros), school dining (up to 574) or transport (up to 617). But support for therapy was the most expensive, up to 913 euros a year. In Alcalá de Henares 62 aid packages were requested, and two have been accepted. “Last year we were given 3,300 euros in total, between NNEE and ICT (information technology), grants to projects of support within the Center”, says Alberto Baliñas, social worker of APTACAN Autism Cantabria Association, serving 52 families.

Pilar Vidal, President of Astea Henares, maintains that public centers “have very limited means and too many students, and sometimes professionals, despite their personal interest and efforts, are not sufficiently trained in autism and further training for them is not financed”. But she is not giving up: “It’s frustrating, unfair and immoral. The Administration should spare no money in areas as fundamental as health, culture and education”.

New Evidence on the Prenatal Origin of Autism

More and more evidence points to a genetic basis for autism. It is unclear what exactly causes genes to generate these alterations in brain formation so they affect some of its areas. It is hypothesized that these genetic alterations have an environmental origin, and every day we find more evidence of how certain chemical compounds, both by themselves and in combinations – affect the body and alter the genetic quality, and therefore inheritance. But what is more and more apparent is that autism has a prenatal origin, i.e. the child is born with a series of changes that will cause the visible signs of autism to appear to a greater or lesser extent.

A team of researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and the Allen Institute for Brain Science have conducted a study (1) on brain tissue to try to find structural differences between the brains of people with autism compared to people without any disorder. For this purpose they focused on the study of the prefrontal cortex, located on the outer region of the brain. This brain area was chosen because it is one of the first that develops. This area builds on 6 layers that are shaped during development of the baby in the womb. And during that process, each cortical layer develops its own specific types of brain cells, each cell type is constructed based on a genetically predefined pattern and form the cerebral network that will be responsible for brain connectivity, which among other functions processes information.

Because the cortex is formed before birth, the results suggest that autism starts in the womb, the researchers say. “The results suggest that between the second and third quarter,” said lead researcher Eric Courchesne, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego.

A Mathematical Algorithm Uncovers Traces of Autism (part II)

Exposing patterns:

Study results are preliminary, but they offer proof of concept that the method can link certain behavior, or phenotype, to a specific genetic structure or genotype. The signatures of shared behavior may indicate shared gene pathways that lead to behaviors, which in turn could hint at the cause of autism.

“The power of the machine learning of the vector support system is that you can find hidden patterns, ie patterns that were not detected by statistical analysis without conventional supervision” says Hilgo Bruining, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Utrecht, who also led the study.

The researchers plan to sift through large sets of behavioral and genetic data of individuals with idiopathic autism. If the algorithm can identify new behavior signatures inside these sets of data, it may be able to divide into subgroups of autism and concentrate on the genome areas responsible with the disorder subtypes.

A Mathematical Algorithm Uncovers Traces of Autism (part I)

Math algorithm detects autism syndromeAutism is defined according to a variety of behavioral symptoms, but it is precisely this variation – along with a complex genetic background – which makes it difficult to connect behavior to the underlying genes.

A new algorithm can make this challenge a little easier to solve. The algorithm, which uses a form of artificial intelligence to learn as it goes, analyzed behavioral data and has learned to recognize six genetic disorders associated with autism, according to research published February 11 in the journal of Molecular Autism.

Researchers hope to use these behavioral signatures to narrow their search for the genetic bases of ‘idiopathic autism’, for which there is no known cause.

Identifying Autism in Children

Autism is usually congenital and is manifested in children between 18 months and 3 years old.

How to identify autism in children

An estimated 1 in 150 children of school age could present an autism spectrum disorder.

The first symptoms are usually the child loses speech, does not look others into the eyes, seems to be deaf, has obsession with certain objects, or shows complete disinterest in social relations with others.

    1 Definition.

The Confederation for Autism in the UK defines autism as part of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), a complex set of disorders that affect development of the nervous system and brain functioning, particularly in aspects related to the processing of information coming from social stimuli.

On the World Autism Day

logo_waadToday it is the world autism day. The majority of patients with this disease take too many years to be diagnosed, which is a real ordeal for families, with endless screenings by doctors, psychologists and specialists. Paradoxically, early diagnosis is essential to initiate therapy right from an early age, and thus significantly enhance the long-term prognosis.

The truth is that some of our child psychiatry facilities and other resources for our children leave much to be desired. Most centers are formed by professionals of psychoanalytic tendency, when the only therapy that has been shown effective is the intensive cognitive-behavioral one, several hours a day. The only option for getting to it, is the private route. And this choice ends up representing about 1,000 euros a month for a family. It is clear that many families cannot afford this cost.

Autism is the most serious psychiatric pathology in a child. There are no drugs to improve the clinical state or the prognosis. Only the aforementioned psychotherapy. These lines are intended to inform and raise awareness of the situation in which we find ourselves. It would require a well-coordinated public network that addressed the early diagnosis, psychotherapy and support and information for families. Autism treatment has come a long way with this treatment, which is also essential to forget the idea that those kids need to live “locked in their world” or in a psychiatric facility.

Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL SKILLS:

  • Relates better with adults than with children of the same age.
  • Does not normally enjoy social contact.
  • Has problems to play with other children.
  • Wants to impose his own rules when playing with peers.
  • Does not understand the implied rules of the game.
  • Wants to always win when they play.
  • Finds it difficult to leave the house.
  • Prefers to play alone.
  • School is a source of conflict with colleagues.
  • Doesn’t like to go to school.
  • Is not interested in team sports.
  • Is easy object of derision or abuses by their companions, who often refuse to include them in their teams.
  • Difficulty participating in competitive sports.
  • When they want something, they want it immediately.
  • Has difficulty understanding the intentions of others.
  • Is not interested in the latest fashion of toys, stickers, TV series or clothing.
  • Has low tolerance to frustration.
  • Finds it hard to identify their feelings and has disproportionate emotional reactions.
  • Cries easily for little reason.
  • When in enjoyment, they’re usually aroused: jump, shout and clap hands.
  • They have more tantrums than normal for their age when they can’t do something.
  • Lacks empathy, to intuitively understand the feelings of another person.
  • Can make offensive comments to others without realizing it, for example: “that fattie”.
  • Does not understand the proper levels of emotional expression according to different people and situations:
  • They can hug a stranger, jump in a church, etc.
  • Has no malice and is sincere.
  • Is socially innocent, doesn’t know how to act in a situation.
  • Sometimes their behavior is inappropriate and may seem challenging.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS:

  • Doesn’t look you in the eye when you speak.
  • Believes what is told even though it is nonsensical.
  • Does not understand ironies, double meanings, or sarcasm.
  • Speaks in a peculiar and high tone: as if foreign, singing or monotonous as a robot.
  • Has a pedantic, hiperformal or hipercorrect language with an extensive vocabulary.
  • Invents words or idiosyncratic expressions.
  • Sometimes seems to be absent, absorbed in his thoughts.
  • Talks much.
  • Cares little about what others say.
  • Struggles to understand a long conversation.
  • Changes the subject when it is unclear.

COMPREHENSION SKILLS:

  • Finds it hard to understand the wording of a problem with several phrases and needs help to have it explained by parts.
  • Has difficulty understanding a complex question and takes the time to answer.
  • Often does not understand the reason why they’re being scolded, criticized or punished.
  • Has an exceptional memory to remember data, for example: dates of birthdays, facts and events.
  • Learned to read by themselves or with little help at an early age.
  • Their symbolic play is scarce (plays little with dolls)
  • In general, shows little imagination and creativity.
  • Is original in the approach to a problem or giving a solution.
  • Has a peculiar sense of humor.
  • Has difficulty understanding how they should behave in a given social situation.
  • Has attention problems.

SPECIFIC INTERESTS:

  • Is fascinated by something in particular and select avidly information or statistics on this interest.
  • For example, numbers, cars, maps, classifications or calendars.
  • Take most of their free time to think, talk or write about their topic.
  • They tend to talk about the issues that interest them not realizing if the other is bored.
  • Compulsively repeats certain actions or thoughts. That gives them security.
  • They like routine. Do not tolerate well unexpected changes (reject an unexpected output).
  • They have elaborate rituals that must be met. For example, to align the toys before going to bed.

MOVEMENT SKILLS:

  • Has problems with fine motion, reflected in their writing.
  • Has a poor motor coordination.
  • Has no ability to catch a ball.
  • The child has a strange rhythm while running.
  • Has trouble dressing.
  • Finds it difficult to fasten the buttons and shoe laces.
  • Difficulties in physical education activities.

OTHER FEATURES:

  • Fear, distress, or discomfort due to ordinary sounds, such as electrical appliances.
  • Light rubbing on the skin or head.
  • Carries certain items of clothing.
  • Unexpected noises (the horn of a car).
  • The vision of certain common objects.
  • Noisy and crowded places.
  • Certain foods because of texture, temperature.
  • A tendency to shake or rock when is excited or distressed.
  • A lack of sensitivity to low levels of pain.
  • Delay in acquiring speech, in some cases.
  • Grimacing, strange facial twists or spasms.

THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ASPERGER’S DISORDER AND THE CLASSIC AUTISTIC DISORDER OF KANNER ARE TWO:

  1. children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome do not have structural deficiencies in their language, they have pragmatic limitations as an instrument of communication, prosody in its melody (or lack thereof)
  2. children and adults with Asperger syndrome have normal capabilities of intelligence and often extraordinary powers in restricted areas.

SOME DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ASPERGER’S SYNDROME AND
THE HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISM.

  • The diagnosis is late.
  • Prognosis is more positive.
  • Social deficits and communication are less severe.
  • Narrow interests are most acute.
  • Verbal intellectual coefficient is greater than functional IQ. (in autism, the case is opposite)
  • Clumsiness or motor rigidity is observed frequently.

Asperger’s syndrome. The Asperger syndrome disorder in children

asperger_syndromeEarly detection of autism spectrum disorders can determine the progress and evolution of the child. Put another way, the sooner you can detect early symptoms of autism and Asperger syndrome, the faster you can implement a series of mechanisms and treatments adapted to your child.

For this same reason, when the specialist assesses your child, they can determine the type of autism from which they suffer. The syndrome of Asperger is a type of mild autism that presents some peculiar characteristics.

Characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome