This week in class, I read something I had never heard before; that Autism is a consciousness disorder. I have a nine-year-old with Autism, and had never heard or read that before; strange huh? I’ve heard autism be called a spectrum disorder, a neurophysiological disorder, and a sensory disorder. I’ve always explained it as, “his senses do not work the same way ours do.” That description is right, and wrong. Let’s take a closer look at autism.
Autism does not have one known cause, and the disorder can range from severe to high functioning, leading scientists to believe that there are probably many causes. (Autism is NOT caused by vaccines, and that is all I will say about that in this paper.) Because of the complexity of the disorder, researchers believe that the cause of Autism may be both environmental and genetic (Mayo Clinic, 2016). Post mortem examinations have brought about many discoveries in how autism effects the genes, and the brain.
Several different genes appear to be involved in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some children have mutations in their genes, that may be the involved in Autism. Some children who have Autism also have a genetic disorder, such as fragile X syndrome or Rhett’s Disease. Some mutations may be on the genes that affect communication, or determine the severity of symptoms. Some mutations may occur spontaneously, while others may be inherited (Mayo Clinic, 2016). One’s chances of having autism increase if one has a sibling or other blood relative with autism, however, scientists believe that many environmental factors may be involved in autism as well.
Environmental factors are currently being explored, and some causes that have been considered are; viral infections, medications or complications during pregnancy, air pollutants, and GMO’s (Mayo Clinic, 2016). All of these factors are considered to effect the baby in utero, evidence shows that around thirty-two weeks in utero, the baby’s brain stops developing normally.
The cerebellum, limbic system, and cortex appears to be affected by Autism. The cerebellum controls fine motor skills, balance, and coordination of the body, as well as, receiving sensory information from muscles, joints, and visual and audio input. Post mortem examinations of the brains of people with Autism has shown an under developed prefrontal cortex and a decrease of purkinje cells in the cerebellum, and that this mutation occurs around thirty-two weeks in vitro. This cell deficient in the cerebellum appears to increase the risk of seizures, and the risk of Autism (Blatt,2012). Many autistic patients also suffer from severe epilepsy.
Many neurotransmitters are affected in the autistic patient including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and Acetylcholine. Dopamine plays a large role in regulating sensitivity and processing of information, perception of change, relying information, cognition, motivation, emotional responses, attention and focus, movement, and posture (Autism Couch, 2017). A decrease in dopamine levels can impair attention and focus, while an increase can cause the mind to race, and increase sensory processing causing an overload on the brain’s ability to process information. Studies have shown that individuals with autism have increased dopamine receptors on the mRNA expression (Autism Couch, 2017).
GABA is a neurotransmitter that contributes to calming a person down; prohibiting neurons from firing. Research has shown that individuals with autism have an imbalance of glutamate to the GABA receptors, causing over excitement, explaining why so many individuals with autism also have a co-morbid diagnosis of ADHD.
Acetylcholine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that contributes to the contraction of muscles, and stimulates the release of certain hormones. It is involved in wakefulness, attentiveness, anger, aggression, sexuality, and thirst, among other things. A decrease in acetylcholine may explain why so many on the spectrum suffer from issues with aggression.
Autism spectrum Disorder is an extremely complicated disorder, and individuals can range from low functioning to high functioning. What may affect one autistic person may not affect another. However, there are common characteristics that all patients with autism will share to one degree or another.
Social interaction and communication are issues for almost all individuals on the spectrum. They may fail to respond to their own name, after someone has called it many times. They may resist hugging and may not want to play with other kids, often times they will appear to be “in their own world.” They may lack eye contact when having conversations, and they may lack facial expression as well. Delayed speaking, or never speaking at all are common, as well as the inability to use words correctly, and some may lose the ability to speak. Conversations are hard for people on the spectrum, and often they may appear to be uninterested in what the other person is saying. They may speak in an abnormal tone, either sing songy, or robotic is common. Social interactions are complicated for autistic people, and they may approach a situation inappropriately by being passive, or aggressive.
As well as communication and social problems, people on the spectrum may have behavioral problems as well. Common behaviors found in ASD individuals include rocking of the body or flapping of the hands. They may self-harm, but not because they are emotionally damaged. They may bite themselves or hit their head against things. Autistic patients are very fixed in their routines and do not like change or surprises. They may be clumsy or have exaggerated body movements, as often they have a hard time with body coordination. (We know that this is due to the damage in the cerebellum.) Most autistic patients are unusually sensitive to light, and sound, but are indifferent to pain and temperature. Children on the spectrum tend to fixate on certain things, have very real food preferences (and that “let them get hungry” philosophy, does not work with autistic kids – they WILL starve before eating something they do not like). They participate in what is called “parallel play.” This means that, yes, they play with other kids, but only alongside them, not interacting or exchanging ideas with them – Jacob still does this.
Treatment for autism is nonexistent. I hate that some people do not care about a cure. I would love a cure for my son. Autism makes his life so hard, and he gets bullied every year because he has a hard time in social situations. Right now, he is in elementary school, and has a student aid that helps him; I’m scared for when he goes to middle school. I hope they keep doing the research and find something, someday to cure autism. Many on the spectrum suffer from co-morbid diagnosis of epilepsy, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and sometimes OCD. Since the core symptoms of autism cannot be treated; treatment is focused on the symptoms, or what symptoms can be treated.
Jacob suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, and he takes an adult dose of Prozac to combat that. He’s been in behavioral therapy since he was diagnosed at age three. Behavioral therapy teaches him how to interact with his peers, and how to react in social situations. Jacob is high functioning, but when he was younger, and first diagnosed, the doctors told me that he would never communicate, and never have a life outside of my home. Well, he sure showed them! Jacob has many friends, and talks up a storm – he never stops, he even talks in his sleep! While I know that there is no cure for autism, some patients can be brought out of their shell, and can go from low functioning to high functioning. Jacob use to be non-verbal, and non-communicative (meaning no outward signs of communication, not even grunting and pointing), his IQ use to be a 70, now it’s a 92, and Jacob has come so far in his abilities to interact socially. Jacob use to be in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy (all common therapies for autism), and now he is only in speech and behavioral therapy. I have no complaints.
Autism spectrum disorder is complicated and can take many different paths. This is not a complete list of all signs and symptoms. If you feel like your child may be autistic, please see your primary care provider.
Gene J. Blatt, “The Neuropathology of Autism,” Scientific, vol. 2012, Article ID 703675, 16
pages, 2012. doi:10.6064/2012/703675
Autism Couch, Neurotransmitters and Autism. Retrieved from: