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How autism Impacts the health of minors, their families and the community in general

Updated on February 1, 2015

Symptoms of autism....continuum

Autistic people find it difficult to socialise. This is the reason appertaining as to why many autistic individuals do not try to connect or form friendships with normal children. Poor language development and communication barriers tend to be the main contributors to these conditions. Autistic children do not imitate the behaviour of others (Stephen & Linda, 2011. This is completely different from what normal children do. In addition, they do not share their observations and thoughts with others. They just tend to be quiet, keeping every observation to themselves. However, another class of autism spectrum does exist. This comprises of people suffering from Asperger syndrome. They are classified in the spectrum of Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS. The initials ‘NOS’ here, stand for not otherwise specified. People suffering from Asperger Syndrome have normal language development (Zander, 2005). However, they encounter challenges in forming peer relationships. This is because they fail to grasp well and understand some social protocols. They portray little understanding of the right behaviours and tend to be completely honest. Most of them lack guile, dishonesty and pretence. Other people may alienate them because of this social backwardness. In addition, patients of Asperger syndrome lack emotional communication. They feel betrayed by fellow humans and hurt when they fail to socialise with them. However, they are unable to express and portray these emotions to people (Stephen & Linda, 2011).

It is imperative to realise that apart from the aforementioned symptoms, other conditions are associated with autism. Comorbid is the term used to describe these symptoms when they uniformly occur at the same time with the frequent symptoms of autism. Examples of these coexisting conditions of autism are mental retardation and dyslexia. Several parts of the mind seem to undergo a retarded growth. This is the reason why most of them have a low intellectual quotient (IQ). Other coexisting conditions of autism include Hyperlexia; attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). They also portray a compulsory possessive disorder (Ozonoff, Sally & Robert Hendren, 2008).

Symptoms of Comorbid conditions are grouped into five categories. The first group comprises of congenital endocrine dysfunction. Under this category, conditions such as juvenile diabetes, pituitary deficiency and hypothyroidism become predominant. The second category of Comorbid conditions comprises of neonatal infections that cause encephalitis. The predominant conditions in this category include Rubella, herpes and cytomegalovirus. Autistic people also portray a third class of conditions grouped under the category of neurocutaneous disorders. Examples of disorders that fall under this category are Hypomelanosis of Ito. They also portray conditions of tuberous sclerosis and neurofibromatosis. Fourthly, they display conditions of sensory disturbances such as congenital anophthalmos, partial blindness and deafness. The fifth category of autistic conditions involves some genetic and neurometabolic disorders. This category comprises of genetic disorders such as Fragile X, which is common among autistic people. It also comprises of metabolic disorders such as phenylketonuria and pyrimidine (Jean, 2005).

What is Autism?

Autism is referred to as a lifetime developmental disorder. It is common in children aged 1 to 14 years. The disorder affects how people communicate and relate with other people. It also affects how they relate to others and their environment. Many researchers have agreed that autism has no cure (Lisa, 2004). The effects of autism are controlled if there is an early diagnosis and intervention from professional doctors. The right time to diagnose autism is when the patient is three years old. Researchers have repeatedly found out that autism is four times prevalent in boys than girls. They also assert autism affects people in every country every, social economic class and ethnic groups.

Common symptoms of Autism

Individuals suffering from autism portray a various symptoms. These symptoms are based on their communication, social development and behavioural characteristics. In terms of communication, children suffering from autism display challenges in language development. At the age of 18-24 months, they may lose their speech. This is termed as regressive autism. Some may be unable to talk in their entire life or talk at the late stages of their development. Verbal communication becomes very difficult for them to understand (Zander, 2005). However, some variations in speech recognition may occur among autistic children. Some may exhibit conditions of echolalia. This involves repeating phrases and words that they hear without literally understanding their meanings. Other children are able to speak, but they undergo a lot of trouble in trying to initiate or maintain a discussion. Researchers have also realised that autistic children also have impaired non-verbal communication. They do not understand gestures nor use them to communicate. For example, they fail to point objects when they want to communicate something. They fail to make eye contacts or return smiles when smiled at by friends (Zander, 2005). These impairments in communication serve to alienate them from other people due to lack of communication barriers.

Behaviour wise, autistic people fail to differentiate reality from fantasy. They easily become obsessed with objects or other unreal sceneries. These obsessions exceed the normal interests displayed by normal developing children. Shifting from one activity to another becomes extremely difficult for them. For example, a child may continuously spin a wheel of a toy car without getting bored or tired (Zander, 2005). Their attention is fixed into one activity. Others may continuously wave their hands when bidding someone goodbye. In addition, doctors assert that autistic people do not tolerate change. Slight interferences or changes in their repetitive behaviours are met with outbursts of rage or despair. These changes become hard for them to tolerate (Stephen & Linda, 2011).

autism--photo-of-boy-on-beach

autism-s1-photo-of-boy-on-beach
autism-s1-photo-of-boy-on-beach | Source

How does autism impact/affect the child?

Autism significantly affects the lives of children. Growing up with autism is never easy. It implies that one has to bear with all the challenges in life. For example, children suffering from autism find it difficult to express themselves. They cannot share their emotions/feelings with others. This is caused by the fact that they cannot communicate well. This failure in communication causes a language barrier that serves to alienate them from the society. They find it difficult to form social ties, relationships and friendships that are vital for a growing person. Therefore, they spent most of their lives in solitude.

Children suffering from Asperger syndrome fight with emotional problems in their daily lives. This is because people may stigmatise them for their lack of social protocols. As mentioned earlier, these children tend to lack guile, dishonesty and pretence. Therefore, people may not want to socialise with them due to these traits. They often feel betrayed by their fellow human beings. They harbour these emotions in silence, a fact that significantly affects their well-being.

They are always prone to misuse and exploitation by people in the society. For example, some schoolchildren may choose to bully their fellow children suffering from autism due to their low intellectual quotient and mental retardation. They may engage them in risky behaviours that may result to fatal accidents or death. Others may mock or even bully them for sheer fun and enjoyment. Under these conditions, life becomes a living hell for such children. One can imagine the emotional turmoil experienced by these children when people mistreat them for their mental disabilities. Such mistreatment always causes low self-esteem. They lack confidence in their abilities. This lack of confidence affects their academic progress.

Their nature may land them into troubles when people misunderstand them. Their inability to understand how people socially behave may force them to break the law and end up committing crimes unaware. For example, it is a common behaviour for autistic people to get obsessed with something. Adults suffering from autism, may become obsessed with certain people, for example, those of the opposite sex, and follow them whenever they go. The person being followed may interpret this as ‘stalking’ and feel afraid or insecure. This may prompt them to make alarms and land the victims into mass confrontation or police arrests. It is also a general character for autism patients to resist change. When such a change occurs in their repetitive behaviours, it is met by uncontrolled bursts of rage and despair. Such temperaments may make them resist arrest or harm those who interfere with their activities. Therefore, they further end up breaking the law or committing crimes unintentionally.

Autistic baby looking outside via a window

Overobsession with minor things is a common  is sign of a baby being autistic. This child is obssessed with her image in the window pane
Overobsession with minor things is a common is sign of a baby being autistic. This child is obssessed with her image in the window pane | Source

Impacts of autism in the family


The existence of a child, a family member or relative suffering from autism affects the family in many ways. Sourcing for medication and proper care for children suffering from autism serves to drain the family’s finance (Grace, 2006). Parents are overburdened with frequent visitations to clinics and hospitals while trying to save the lives of their autistic children. This situation worsens when symptoms of epilepsy becomes evident in these children. Sometimes parents are forced to abscond their work and remain at home taking care after their children. Alternatively, they alternate on their daily attendance to work. One attends to work while the other parent stays at home. The situation worsens when the family comprises of a single parent, the sole breadwinner. This forces them to change their expectations in life or alter their plans and focus on the wellbeing of their children (Grace, 2006).

Taking care of autistic children causes many emotional disturbances among parents and family members. After making many efforts to provide the best environment for their children, some parents never feel satisfied. They believe that a lot has not been accomplished. Therefore, they over dedicate themselves to the task. However, nothing is permanent. Some variations may occur where the parents fail after trying to the best of their capabilities. When such occurs, they feel as if the society is judging them. This is accompanied by guilty feelings that their children are missing something that is essential in their lives. Such guilty feelings results to stress and anxiety. This stress forces many marriages to break, separate or divorce if left unchecked (Bryna, 1998). Other parents tend to be depressed by the issues because they are too much for them to handle.

At the family level, families with autistic children affect the lives of other siblings. This is because they suffer for being brought up in a stressful environment. At extreme conditions, parents may neglect the welfare of other siblings because they give a lot of their attention to the sick child. Therefore, the normal children lack the parental love that they deserve from their parents. Sometimes they feel neglected by their parents. Therefore, socialising with other children within these stressful environments becomes a hard task for them. In an effort to help their parents, some may offer a helping hand by trying to look after their sick siblings. All these situations have a life term psychological effect on the wellbeing of these children (Stephen & Linda, 2011).

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Recommendations for the treatment of autism

The cure for autism is still unknown. This is because patients suffering from autism portray a variety of behaviours. Health professionals can only use these behaviours to prescribe some medications and other therapies that help autistic patients recover to normal conditions. For example, some medications are administered to help people with autism related symptoms. However, people should realise and understand that the Food and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) have not yet approved the medications that doctors use to control the symptoms of autism. Therefore, doctors prescribe these medications as off label. They simply use them when such medications are known to cure other ailments related to the symptoms portrayed by autism. These medications help them by controlling high levels of energies, seizures and depression. They also help these people to focus well and control their behaviours accordingly. For example, doctors use antipsychotic medications to cure severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Therefore, doctors prescribe these medications to minimise aggression among autistic children. They also use them to control symptoms of hyperactivity, attention deficits and repetitive behaviours among children (Centre for disease control and prevention, n.p).

Doctors also use antidepressant medications such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and sugar pill (placebo) to treat depression and anxiety. Therefore, they use the same antidepressant medications to treat anxiety and depression among patients of autism. Previously conducted studies have reported that the sugar pill is the best for the treatment of repetitive behaviours among autistic children.

Other doctors use stimulant medications to treat patients ailing from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A good example of such stimulant medication is methylphenidate. It is commonly known as Ritalin. Doctors have repetitively used Ritalin to control symptoms of hyperactivity in patients of autism, or autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, all medicines have their own side effects on the patients. Parents are advised to maintain a close surveillance/ watch of their children after medication and immediately report any complications as soon as they occur (Centre for disease control and prevention, n.p). For those patients of autism who have trouble with sleep, doctors use melatonin to influence their sleep.

There are other non-pharmacological methods of treating or managing autism. For example, parents can adopt early intervention services on their children. Patients normally begin these intervention services at the age of three. They help patients of autism to learn important skills that assist them in life. They constitute of therapies that help the child to; speak, interact with others and walk.

There are several therapies used to help autistic children. For example, there are the communicative and behavioural approaches used to influence and improve the language and the behaviours of autistic children. This comprises of the behaviour analysis method (ABA). The behaviour analysis method encourages positive behaviour among children of autism. It also discourages negative behaviours. Other therapies such as the verbal behaviour intervention teach the patients verbal communication skills (Centre for disease control and prevention, n.p).

Other vital therapies such as the occupational, sensory integration and the speech therapies are used for the treatment of autism. Under occupational therapy, patients learn basic skills that enable them to live independent lives. These skills include social relations, dressing, bathing, eating and many others. Sensory integration therapies are used to help children with sensory hypersensitivity. They are taught how to perceive and deal with sensory information such as sound, smell and sight. Speech therapy serves to perfect their communication skills. Others therapies like the picture message system teach them how to communicate using symbols and pictures. They learn the use of gestures, symbols and even pictures to communicate by asking questions and responding to them (Centre for disease control and prevention, n.p).

To relieve themselves from the symptoms of autism, some people resort to the use of other methods of treatments outside the prescriptions of paediatrics. They are termed as complementary and alternative treatments. They involve nutritional and dietary approaches that include the use of special diets. They rely on special diets that boost or result to mental development, or avoid various food substances that may cause allergic reactions among the patients of autism (Centre for disease control and prevention, n.p).

Autism-s3-photo-of-baby-in-crib

autism-s3-photo-of-baby-in-crib
autism-s3-photo-of-baby-in-crib | Source

The implications of autism for nursing practices

Researchers have proved that many nurses portray inadequate knowledge about autism. They are often caught unaware of what ought to be done in cases involving patients with autism (Jacklin, 2011). This lack of knowledge can cause serious consequences on both the patient and the nurse. Therefore, it is necessary for nursing schools and any other clinical institutions to avail the latest learning materials to nurses in order to improve on their general knowledge on autism. They should be conscious of the latest development in the treatment of autism and the latest discoveries on how to handle patients of autism well (Jacklin, 2011). They should be involved in various internal trainings on how to deal with cases of autism. If possible, they should research on the issue, compile their data, facts and later submit their results. These activities would greatly boost their knowledge about autism and improve their competence in work.


Paediatrics encounter difficulties while making treatments or prescriptions that help their patients. This is because the treatment of autism is administered based on the behaviour of the patients. In addition, patients of autism portray a wide range of behaviours. They require advanced care from nurses. Therefore, nurses on duty have a responsibility of maintaining a clear surveillance on these patients in order note the behaviours portrayed by the patient (Jacklin, 2011). This will necessitate for the correct medical prescriptions that help to manage the symptoms of autism.

In addition, successful health care on patients of autism requires that nurses or caregivers understand the history and the culture of the family in which they provide health care services (Jacklin, 2011). This is because optimal wellness for the patient requires the nurse, the family and the patient to form an acceptable plan of care. Therefore, nurses should possess cultural sensitivity and competence for the success of the partnership in health care. This implies that they must form a health care plan that balances between health care plans, family cultures and cultural beliefs (Jacklin, 2011).

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References

Centre for disease control and prevention. (n.p). Autism spectrum disorders: treatment. Retrieved on 19th February 2014 from: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

Bryna Siegel. (1998). The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford University Press

Jacklin E. M. Fisher. (2011). The Therapeutic Role of the Mental Health Nurse: Implications for the Practice of Psychological Therapies. Retrieved on 19th February 2014 from: http://epubs.scu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1231&context=theses

Grace Baron. (2006). Stress and Coping in Autism. Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford University Press

Jean, R. (2005), Optimal Treatment for Children with Autism and Other Neuropsychiatric Conditions. Bloomington, Indiana, iUniverse.

Lisa Ruble. (2004). Autism spectrum disorders: Primer for parents and educators. Retrieved on 18th February 2014, from: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/handouts/Autism204_blue.pdf

Ozonoff, S. J, Sally and Robert Hendren. (2008). Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Research Review for Practitioners. Arlington, American Psychiatric Publishing.

Zander, Erick. (2005). An introduction to Autism. Retrieved on 18th February 2014, from: http://www.autismforum.se/gn/export/download/af_oversattningar/Introduktion_om_autism_engelska.pdf

Stephen .S and Linda, G. (2011), Understanding Autism For Dummies. Hoboken, New Jersey. John Wiley & Son


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