It seems incredible to us nowadays that the remedy for the majority of illnesses 200 years ago was blood-letting, when a main artery was opened and blood released. Sounds archaic, but it was a method used for thousands of years; but only since the birth of modern medicine did physicians realise there were alternatives to this treatment and they had to look at the root cause of the patient’s complaint.
So it will come as no surprise that the medical profession is still making new diagnoses and drawing new conclusions to many conditions that have been treated and responded to in the same way for centuries.
First recognised in 1943, the Autism Spectrum Disorder effects how a person makes sense of the world around them.
AUTISM & ASPERGER’S SYNDROME
Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome fall under the umbrella of ASD and are now one of the most researched areas of patient well-being; but there continue to be huge disparities from country to country and even amongst the different UK agencies that have been set up to support sufferers and their families.
I met Stella Waterhouse who has specialised in this area for most of her life and whilst she has managed to unravel a lot of the misconceptions, and has written several books and articles on the subject, it is still an area she feels needs more research and far less in the way of assumptions and therefore incorrect diagnosis.
One of the most important points Stella makes is the difference between Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Some aspects of childhood autism include difficulties with social interaction and communication along with an inability to use their imagination during play.
With Asperger’s syndrome there is a similar problem with social interaction along with repetitive behaviour; but unlike autism there is no delay in communication skills and they are inquisitive about their surrounds.
Stella’s mother was a speech therapist helping children with ASD and from an early age Stella was intrigued by the children who were being supported and she enjoyed finding new ways of interacting with them. She has now been working with them for over 40 years and whilst she has a huge amount of knowledge and insight, she also knows there is still much to understand.
During the 1960s the number of children identified was around 3 to 4 in every 10,000 but now it is 1 in 68 children who are being diagnosed.
But is this an indication of an increase in numbers or improved detection rates? Then there is the additional debate of the side effect of the MMR vaccine and lobbyists in America say there is a link with mercury based flu jabs (an amendment was made in American legislation preventing anyone from suing pharmaceutical firms in the future, should a link be found between autism and the vaccines).
There are half a million people in the UK who have been diagnosed with autism (there is also evidence to suggest more boys than girls are effected). So including their families, that is 2 million people whose lives have been impacted.
With the continuing progress in helping people live more normal lives, schools are given guidelines to help children have as conventional a school life as possible. Teachers are given guidance in the way they communicate with autistic children, helping them understand instructions and school rules. The children can also be accommodated in a quiet distraction free environment.
It is generally accepted that the condition is genetic (if a parent is autistic then it is more likely their children will develop it) combined with the environment in which the child lives; but whatever the cause, it is likely the child will have had a predisposition to ASD.
But how can you tell if your child is likely to be susceptible to autism? What are the tell-tale signs that should ring alarm bells?
Whilst they are by no means conclusive:
- if your toddler struggles or cries when you pick them up
- because of sensory problems and seeing everything in a fragmented way, a child may look at things close up
- sometimes eye contact is physically painful so they will avert their gaze if you look at them
Specialists are able to detect the condition early on, identifying some of the triggers, therefore offering help to parents and carers on what should be avoided. However, once the trigger has been activated, there is sadly nothing that can be done to halt it, only help control the effects.
For support or advice contact The National Autistic Society.
For Stella Waterhouse publications visit www.stellawaterhouse.com.