Three weeks ago was the sixth annual Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2013. Though millions of Americans have heard the word ‘autism’, very few have an actual grasp on what autism actually is, or how it affects individuals and their families.
What is autism?
The official name of autism is actually ‘autism spectrum disorders’. This is because doctors include autism in a group of problems that affects children, such as Asperger syndrome. Autism spectrum disorders happen when a child’s brain develops differently and has difficulty making sense of their surroundings. Each day, our brains interpret the things we see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and experience. When a person’s brain has trouble interpreting these things, it can be difficult to talk, listen, understand, play, and learn.
Presently, there isn’t a specific medical test that can diagnose autism. Specially trained psychologists, pediatricians, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists and physicians develop and administer autism specific behavioral evaluations.
Parents are often the first to notice when their child is showing unusual or strange behavioral patterns such as failing to respond to his or her name, doing things in repetitive ways or not making eye contact. Because parents know their children deeply and instinctually, it is recommended that they follow their instincts and seek the advice and attention of a healthcare professional. It is also recommended that children are seen frequently up until the age of three to monitor developmental milestones.
Sometimes an autism disorder is diagnosed later in life because of learning, social or emotional difficulties. Diagnosis for adolescents and adults will often come as a relief to those struggling, and the families who support and love them. Understanding the source of personal difficulties will shed light on positive treatments and create opportunity for an improved quality of life.
While autism has a strong genetic basis, a lot of research is still ahead of us in order to completely understand the complexity of the disorder(s). Today, approximately 20 out of every 1, 000 Americans are diagnosed with autism. The number of people diagnosed with autism has been increasing since the 1980s, partly due to changes in diagnostic practice and government-subsidized financial incentives for named diagnoses. Whether or not there are actually more people with autism than there was 30 years ago, is a question that remains unresolved.
A healthy lifestyle for quality of life
It is certainly recommended that people dealing with autism spectrum disorders, and their families, work closely with their health care teams to develop a customized health care plan that promotes a dynamic, healthy, quality life.
Naturally, leading a healthy lifestyle is crucial to holistic health for all Americans. For those coping with complex disorders such as autism, it is important to promote optimal health. Implementing healthy nutritional choices can be difficult as people with autism will often have strong reactions to food of specific flavors, colors, textures, and so forth. Exercise is also essential, as autism can encourage seclusion, and therefore a sedentary lifestyle.
It is also important to stay on top of vitamin, mineral and essential fatty acid intake. Omega-3’s for instance, are incredible when it comes to promoting cognitive function, feelings of personal well-being and self value and memory capabilities. There have also been various claims made regarding the positive impact omega-3’s can have on individuals with autism. We have provided a few examples regarding clinical research and studies that address the relationship between omega-3’s and autism.
- Amminger et al. (2007) reported that omega-3 fatty acids reduced hyperactivity and stereotypy (in 13 5-17 year olds with ASDs and severe tantrums, aggression or self injurious behavior using 840mg EPA and 700mg DHA for 8 weeks)
- Bell et al (2004) reported improvements in overall health, cognition, sleep patterns, social interactions and eye contact (in 18 children with autism given 372-744mg EPA and 116-332mg DHA for 6 months)
- Johnson and Hollander (2003) reported the elimination of anxiety about everyday events (in one 10 year old given 540mg EPA for 4 weeks)
Autism spectrum disorders are extremely complex, and can’t be summed up in a single article. For those people reading this who are not directly affected by the disorders, we encourage awareness. Take some time to learn more about autism, as you never know when someone with autism could come and light up your life.