Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication and causes restricted and repetitive behaviors that usually start in children before age three. Autistic babies tend to shrink away from human touch and do not smile or respond to smiles. They prefer to form their own rituals and not interact with others around them.
Postmortem and MRI studies have shown that many major brain structures are involved with autism. This includes the cerebellum, cerebral cortex, limbic system corpus callosum, basal ganglia, and brain stem. Research is focusing on the role of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. Other evidence points to genetic factors and a gene vulnerability that runs in families. Neuroimaging studies have also shown that a contributing factor to autism may be abnormal brain development in the first few months of life of an infant. For example, sudden, rapid head growth in an infant could be an early warning signal for the prevention of autism.
Getting a diagnosis as an adult is not easy because Asperger’s is not widely heard among doctors. These triad impairments Asperger’s can help your doctor make a diagnosis:
Social Communication: have difficulty understanding gestures, body language, facial expressions, making eye contact and have repetitive speech patterns.
Social Understanding: have trouble in group situations like finding small talk and chatting difficult and not understanding double meanings like not knowing when someone is teasing you or taking everything literally.
Imagination: have an obsession with rigid routines, problems with making plans for the future and organizing your life, and have trouble planning to go out because they can never remember what to take with them.
Current research points to brain abnormalities as the main cause. Scientists have found certain defects in the brains of children with Asperger’s Syndrome(AS) caused by the abnormal migration of embryonic cells during fetal development that affects brain structure and wiring and then goes on to affect the neural circuits that control thought and behavior. AS tends to run in families, but a specific gene for AS has never been found. Research shows that a common group of genes whose variations and deletions make an individual more vulnerable to AS. This variation or deletion of genes determines the severity and symptoms of AS in each individual.
Treatment targets the triad symptoms of AS: poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention the better. An effective treatment program for children includes the following:
In a recent study, children with high functioning autism showed smaller volumes of grey matter in the fronto-pallidal regions of their brain. On the other hand, children with Asperger’s showed less grey matter in mainly the bilateral caudate and thalamus.
* McAlonan, G. M., Suckling, J., Wong, N., Cheung, V., Lienenkaemper, N., Cheung, C., & Chua, S. E. (2008). Distinct patterns of grey matter abnormality in high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 49(12), 1287-1295. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01933.x
Figure 1 Relative deficit clusters (blue) in grey matter volume in children with autism (a) HFA relative to Asperger’s syndrome (b) HFA relative to controls. (c) Asperger’s syndrome relative to controls. (d) Total autism group relative to controls. The maps are orientated with the right side of the brain shown on the left side of each panel. The z coordinate for each axial slice in the standard space of Talairach and Tournoux is given in millimeters.
*Autism - Part I. (Cover story). (2001). Harvard Mental Health Letter , 17(12), 1. Retrieved from EBSCO host .
Explains what is Autism and Asperger’s syndrome and their characteristics. Expresses the needs of autistic children and how they feel about the world around them.
*McAlonan, G. M., Suckling, J., Wong, N., Cheung, V., Lienenkaemper, N., Cheung, C., & Chua, S. E. (2008). Distinct patterns of grey matter abnormality in high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 49(12), 1287-1295. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01933.x
Shows the studies conducted on children’s brains and compares the volumes of grey matter in normal children and those who have autism spectrum disorders.
* Delfos, M., & Attwood, T. (2005). Strange world-autism,asperger's syndrome and pdd-nos: a guide for parents, partners, professionals carers, and people with asds. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/spscclibrary/docDetail.action?docID=10090655
Everything about Autism, Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders. Tells the history of autism and Asperger’s and teaches coping strategies.
Morris, B.K. (2008). Help with autism, asperger's syndrome & related disorders. Retrieved from http://www.autism-help.org/
Information for parents and professionals about Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. It goes into detail about diagnosis and treatment in children and adults with these conditions.