Chronic Illness - Autism

Chronic diseases are a part of almost every other household in America. According to a TV show “Today Show”, which was aired on 25th January 2007 on MSNBC, 75% or Americans over the age of 65 will deal with at least 1 illness, and at least 50% will deal with 2 or more during their lifetimes.  The question is, what is a chronic illness? Chronic diseases are illnesses that are both persistent and long-lasting in nature. They can either be non-communicable diseases like diabetes, arthritis, emphysema or cancer, or transmittable, like HIV/AIDS. As can be seen above, they can be as simple as diabetes, which has practically become a part of every household in America, or they can be fatally deadly like cancer and HIV. Out of the many chronic diseases that people are facing across the world, Autism is one of the most devastating, both physically, mentally and socially (Medical & Psychosocial Aspects of Chronic Illness, 2008).

Autism is a neural development disorder that strikes very early in life. The basis of this disease lies in the genetic make-up characterized by the inability to relate to social cues and interactions, and         restrictive language usage and repetitive behavior. The severity and overall effect of Autism varies from individual to individual. However, to understand the symptoms, one must first understand the disease itself. Autism affects the processing of information in the brain. Due to this disease, the nerve cells and synapses in the brain function abnormally, which in turn results in the patient acting abnormally throughout life. Much research is being conducted to understand and possibly counter this disease; however, its actual cause is still unknown, apart from the fact that it is a birth defect. In December 2009, the CDC issued a report that concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 110 births in the United States and almost 1 in 70 boys (Autism Society, 2012) .

The symptoms of autism are manifested very early in life. They gradually begin after a child is 6 months old and escalate without remission throughout life. There is no just one symptom in autism, but an array of them. Impairments in social interaction and communication, restricted interest and repetitive behavior are just a few of the many. Social deficiency is one of the primary symptoms of autism. Autistic individuals find is extremely difficult to socialize as they lack the intuition to understand the thoughts and feelings of non-autistic individuals.  This becomes apparent in early childhood, where a child shows less attention to social stimuli, rarely smiles and responds less. Though they do form an attachment to their parents, they hardly recognize or respond to others in their family. As the child grows from a toddler to a school-going age, he prefers to be alone and rarely makes friends. The inability to understand social norms and be a productive part of the community may also result in frustration, which is turn may result in aggression (Rogers, 1996) .

The second most prominent symptom of autism is the lack of communication ability. About 25 - 50% of autistic individuals do not develop enough communication skills for their daily lives. Once again, this can be seen very early in life where a child babbles incoherently, does not gesture towards what he wants, or gives unusual gestures. Autistic children are less likely to create and use their own words and sentences. They either prefer to keep silent, or just repeat other’s words. This hindrance in communication, once again, is a major factor in the successful development of autistic children. They cannot share experiences, they face difficultly in talking to and playing with others their age, and later on in life, face troubles in their social circle as well.

The last of the 3 most prominent symptoms of autism is repetitive behavior. Autistic individuals display many forms and categories of irrelevant and repetitive behavior. Stereotypy is a category of repetitive movement like hand flapping, moaning, head rolling or body rocking. Compulsive behavior is another category where autistic individuals arrange different objects in a particular manner. Likewise, Ritualistic behavior is when individuals follow an unchanging routine almost throughout life, like a particular dinner menu or specific dress routine. However, there are more serious and damaging behaviors as well. This category is called self-injury. A research reports that about 30% of children with ASD portray this symptom, where they perform movements that can injure them, like eye poking, head banging, hand biting, etc.

Though there is no cure as yet for autism, there are interventions. Basically, these interventions can be divided into Non-medical interventions and Bio-medical interventions. As the name suggests, Non-medical interventions focus on behavior training and change without the use of medicines and drugs. ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is one of the most widely used non-medical interventions used by therapists. A tried and tested procedure for over 50 years, ABA helps in the reduction of disruptive behavior, especially in children.  Using careful observation and suitable and positive reinforcement, ABA aims to instill social behaviors in autistic children, which they might not pick up on their own. Through this method, undesirable social behaviors are observed careful and discourage suitably, on the other hand positive behaviors are taught using constant and consistent prompting (Southeast Autism Research & Resource Centre, 2012).

There are various components and methodologies used in ABA. The Discrete Trial Training is where a teacher or a therapist educates and prompts the child in order to establish a behavior, providing a correct or incorrect response as a consequence. Another component of ABA is the Pivotal Response Training, which uses motivational and naturalistic procedures to encourage desirable development in children. Through ABA, children with autism are undergoing training and therapy for a very early age, which in turn positively affects their development in their later lives (Healing Thresholds, 2012).

There may still be no cure for Autism, however through these therapies, which are a result of researches and studies from scientists across the world, autistic individuals can be helped out, which can make them contributing members of society. 

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