Medical and Biological

A number of medical and behavioral issues frequently occur with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  These may include anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), gastrointestinal (GI) problems, seizures, sleep disturbances and epilepsy.
Children with autism or other developmental disorders have higher than expected rates of an even broader range of medical conditions. Specifically, these children are: 
  • 1.8 times more likely than children without developmental disabilities to have asthma
  • 1.6 times more likely to have eczema or skin allergies,
  • 1.8 times more likely to have food allergies,
  • 2.2 times more likely to have chronic severe headaches, and
  • 3.5 times more likely to have chronic diarrhea or colitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • It is very important to communicate with the families about what is happening in the classroom because the chances of the issue (behavior, work production, etc.) being medical or biological are high. 
  • Fitness, sleep, and nutrition can make big differences and significantly improve the lives of children with autism

FACT-BASED AUTISM INFORMATION: Biological Developmental Domain
This domain includes the physical growth, change, stability and diversity of the structures and functions of the human body and brain. 

What are the different degrees or kinds of Autism?
While the level of this pervasive developmental condition ranges from mild to moderate to severe, Autism can represent very serious challenges for the individual with Autism, their family, and those in the community (teachers, etc). This is because Autism alters a person's learning and reasoning processes at a physical level in ways that create a very different perception of our outer environment, experience of our inner realities, and perspective of our human interactions as social beings and groups. Children and adults with Autism and related disorders most often show combinations of different levels of more or less severe, moderate, or mild degrees of their sensory, communication and social features. Any one person with Autism may have any or all of these three levels across these three features. By its very nature Autism represents both a diverse spectrum of individuals and a splintering of development within each individual. This is why understanding any one individual's true profile of Autism requires sharing of family and professionals observations over time and across settings.

A few people with Autism may show high or savant level skills in one or more of these sensory abilities. This is why in the early twentieth century people with severe Autism, but intact high splinter skills such as rote memory skills, music, math and art were labeled as Idiot Savants. While savant skills are impressive in children with Autism, maximizing or even maintaining such extreme splinter skills may come at the long term cost of some critical neurological forms of imbalances in developing other important knowledge, skills or abilities people with Autism can learn to live more typically and independently. While it is an individual judgment call (AND an emerging issue of social empowerment for self advocacy by the group of adults with Autism for their member group of children with AUTISM) savant skills probably should NOT be over-focused on in the hope of fostering exceptional giftedness, or other areas of development and independent functioning may seriously suffer.

What has the history of biologically-based research of this neurological condition revealed?
Changes in the size and thickness of the Cerebral Cortex. This is the big sheet of brain tissue that folds up to create the rib-like appearance of the brain. In people with retardation it is usually smaller in area dimension, while in some people with Autism it may be measurable bigger than normal. But the thickness and quality of the sheet may be thinner and atypical in its structure. The “association areas” where incoming messages from the senses are combined into meaningful impressions and interpreted in communication and social terms and responded to with outgoing motor behaviors are located across the cerebral cortex. This would account for the impairment of early learning and life span, executive and higher reasoning functions, as well as narrower high splinter skills common to some people with Autism. Very recent research confirms that some infants with Autism may have sudden periods of atypically large head size. This is an important finding that may someday reveal causes of the onset of Autism.

Changes in the neural fibers of the Corpus Callosum: This is the network of specialized nerve fiber that connects the hemispheres. These were seen as normal in early autopsies, yet later microscopic cellular scans showed atypical higher numbers of fibers than typical brains, but with poorer quality of the connecting cells. This could correlate to the difficulty in rapid automatic processing of information and integration of various mental functions in the brain seen in some people with Autism.

Changes in the functional activity of the Front Lobes: This area of the brain is very important but less understood in how it functions in typical people. It controls goal planning, following complex and reversable directions and task completion and what we see as emotional control and personality. It is atypically active/less active in people with Autism and ADD/HD. Yet this lower activity that may contribute to hyporesponsiveness to the environment can actually produce agitation and experiences of stress.

Changes in the functional activity of the Temporal Lobes: This area of the brain effects motivation as well as hearing, recognizing faces and smell, which include several are core symptoms of Autism such as auditory processing and poor recognition of faces, and facial expressions of emotional feelings and nonverbal social communications.

Changes in the structure of functional activity of the Limbic System: This is a ring of structures around the brain stem that effect sensory processing, reticular formation (which is the alert and arouse control of higher brain functions), and learning and emotional behavior. In typical people it has fewer longer loser type cells. However, people with Autism has shown to have more shorter tighter packed cell groups This would explain why people with Autism report being overwhelmed by input and their internal experience of thinking and feeling, even while the majority of their brains and response indicate a hypo arousal response pattern.

Changes in the structures and functional activities of the Thalamus: which controls processing of sensory input--except smell, the Hypothalamus, which produces and regulates motivation and emotion, and the Hippocampus and Amygdala which helps manage Information processing and integration in ways that effects behavior. All of these are shown to be involved in Autism.

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