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Increase in diagnoses of autism

There has been an explosion worldwide in reported cases of autism over the last ten years, which is largely reminiscent of increases in the diagnosis of schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder in the twentieth century. This has brought rise to a number of different theories as to the nature of the sudden increase.

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Types of Autism

Autism presents in a wide degree, from those who are nearly dysfunctional and apparently mentally handicapped to those whose symptoms are mild or remedied enough to appear unexceptional ("normal") to the general public. In terms of both classification and therapy, autistic individuals are often divided into those with an IQ<80 referred to as having "low-functioning autism" (LFA), while those with IQ>80 are referred to as having "high-functioning autism" (HFA). Low and high functioning are more generally applied to how well an individual can accomplish activities of daily living, rather than to IQ. The terms low and high functioning are controversial and not all autistics accept these labels. Further, these two labels are not currently used or accepted in autism literature.

This discrepancy can lead to confusion among service providers who equate IQ with functioning and may refuse to serve high-IQ autistic people who are severely compromised in their ability to perform daily living tasks, or may fail to recognize the intellectual potential of many autistic people who are considered LFA. For example, some professionals refuse to recognize autistics who can speak or write as being autistic at all, because they still think of autism as a communication disorder so severe that no speech or writing is possible.

As a consequence, many "high-functioning" autistic persons, and autistic people with a relatively high IQ, are underdiagnosed, thus making the claim that "autism implies retardation" self-fulfilling. The number of people diagnosed with LFA is not rising quite as sharply as HFA, indicating that at least part of the explanation for the apparent rise is probably better diagnostics.

Asperger's and Kanner's syndrome

In the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the most significant difference between Autistic Disorder (Kanner's) and Asperger's syndrome is that a diagnosis of the former includes the observation of "[d]elays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play[,]" [2] while a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome observes "no clinically significant delay" in these areas. [3]

Whilst the DSM-IV does not include level of intellectual functioning in the diagnosis, the fact that those with Asperger's syndrome tend to perform better than those with Kanner's autism has produced a popular conception that Asperger's syndrome is synonymous with "higher-functioning autism," or that it is a lesser disorder than autism. Similarly, there is a popular conception that autistic individuals with a high level of intellectual functioning in fact have Asperger's syndrome, or that both types are merely 'geeks' with a medical label attached. The popular depiction of autism in the media has been of relatively severe cases, for example, as seen in the film Rain Man, and in turn many relatives of those who have been diagnosed in the autistic spectrum choose to speak of their loved ones as having Asperger's syndrome rather than autism.

Autism as a spectrum disorder

Another view of these disorders is that they are on a continuum known as autistic spectrum disorders. A related continuum is Sensory Integration Dysfunction, which is about how well we integrate the information we receive from our senses. Autism, Asperger's syndrome, and Sensory Integration Dysfunction are all closely related and overlap.

There are two main manifestations of classical autism, regressive autism and early infantile autism. Early infantile autism is present at birth while regressive autism begins before the age of 3 and often around 18 months. Although this causes some controversy over when the neurological differences involved in autism truly begin, some believe that it is only a matter of when an environmental toxin triggers the disorder. This triggering could occur during gestation due to a toxin that enters the mother's body and is transferred to the fetus. The triggering could also occur after birth during the crucial early nervous system development of the child due to a toxin directly entering the child's body.

 

 

 

 

 
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