Local Health

4/16/2013

Understanding Autism

By BRITTANY TATE The Brunswick News

11This is the personal side: One of those children is a granddaughter of Dr. Herman Levy, a pulmonologist at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Pulmonary Medicine and acting president of the Triumph Foundation, an autism support foundation in Brunswick.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorders, includes a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that involve socialization, communication or behavior. It is believed to be caused by genetic mutations that alter brain development, which, in turn, affects social and communication development. This leads to repetitive behavior and restricted interests, Levy said.

"Unusual behavior, such as hand flapping, frequent tantrums, self mutilation and difficulty tolerating change or transition may be indicative of autistic behavior. (But) why the autistic spectrum disorder develops and how it develops is incompletely understood. Brain abnormalities may play an important role in the development of autism," Levy said.

"The complexity of (autism spectrum disorders) and the numerous manifestations of this problem leads one to conclude that there are multiple genes involved. Research points to a genetic reason, (because) environmental factors based on present knowledge account for only a minority of cases of autistic spectrum disorders."

Levy says toxic exposure and prenatal infection probably account for only a few cases of the disorder. There is some evidence that low birth weight, problems during childbirth, parental age, obesity, diabetes and hypertension in the mother may increase the risk of adult spectrum disorder development, Levy said.

There is evidence that refutes claims that childhood immunizations cause autism.

"To date, there is no association of adult spectrum disorder associated with immunizations. Numerous studies have shown that the measles vaccine and thimerosal - a mercury preservative used in vaccine - do not cause autism," he said.

Learning disabilities are present in about 45 to 60 percent of individuals diagnosed with being on the autistic spectrum, Levy says, and less than 10 to 25 percent of cases are associated with a medical condition.

Levy says in Glynn County schools, students with autism make up more than 10 percent of the special education enrollment. That percentage is based on the number of students eligible under state guidelines on autism and doesn't reflect the number of students who may not have autism listed as their primary disability.

Levy says autism doesn't just affect the child, it affects an entire family.

"Parents dealing with autism may find it both a challenge and heartbreaking. With children who have Down Syndrome, you can still get through. But with children with autism, there's a block there, and you can't get to the child. It adds tremendous frustration in families," he said.

"Parents who are concerned about having a child with a difficult temperament, delays in socialization and concerns about language development should bring this to the attention of their health care provider. Parents can also contact a developmental pediatrician. They are able to address the problem associated with (autism)."

* Reporter Brittany Tate writes about lifestyle topics. Contact her at btate@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 317.

Signals

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says these behaviors may be among indicators of autism in children that should be evaluated by a doctor:

* Not responding to his or her name by 12 months of age.

* Not displaying an interest in objects (such as pointing to an airplane flying overhead) by 14 months old.

* Not playing "pretend" games (such as pretending to feed a doll) by 18 months old.

* Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone.

* Having trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings.

* Having delayed speech and language skills.

* Repeating words or phrases over and over.

* Giving unrelated answers to questions.

* Being upset by minor changes.

* Having obsessive interests.

* Flapping hands, rocking or spinning in circles.

* Having unusual reactions to the ways things sound, smell, taste, look or feel.

Get involved

As part of National Autism Awareness Month, Triumph Foundation will have A Walk for Autism at 10 a.m. May 4 at the Brunswick Exchange Club Fairgrounds, 101 Emory Dawson Road, Brunswick. There will be entertainment, games, arts and crafts, informational booths and lunch.

Registration and check-in will begin at 9 a.m. The cost is $10 per person or $35 per family of up to five people. Individuals and family members of those individuals affected by autism will be admitted free (only five people per qualified family will be admitted without charge).

The deadline for pre-registration online at awalkforautism.eventbrite.com is 5 p.m. Friday. Call 289-2021 for details.