Autistic Spectrum Disorder: Finding Hope

Living with Autistic Spectrum Disorder

A person with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) suffers from persistent deficits in social communication and social interactions in multiple aspects of their life. They also struggle with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Symptoms often present in the first two years of life and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of their life.

We refer to the illness as a spectrum because of the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment that people with ASD can have. Some are mildly impaired while others are severely disabled. Mild ASD was formerly referred to as Asperger's Disease.

We don't know the exact causes of autistic spectrum disorder, but research suggests that both genes and environment play important roles. In Identical twins, where one has ASD, the other twin has ASD in nearly 9 out of 10 cases. If one sibling has ASD, other siblings have a 35 times greater than normal risk of developing the disorder. Despite this genetic tie, most people with ASD have no reported family history of autism, suggesting that random, rare, and possibly many gene mutations are involved.

Is it Possible to Diminish the Symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorder?

Most research has been focused on finding the gene or genes responsible for causing the illness. New information has led to the search for genes that may prove protective against these changes.

While studying the genius behind child prodigies, Dr. JoAnn Ruthsatz and her colleagues discovered that many had first-degree relatives with ASD. She presented a portion of her work on a recent TED talk. This looks not to be mere coincidence. The search is now on for the gene or genes that may allow some degree of protection against this illness and other illnesses as well. Dr. Ruthsatz notes that many times her prodigies struggled until they were allowed to discover and develop their unusual talents. This goes along with the general strategy of treatment where a child is tested for strengths and then allowed to develop along these strengths.

It has been found that when they are allowed to develop these strengths to their full potential they thrive.  These healthy brain areas provide the structure and organization for other brain areas. This is particularly true when their strength is matched with some degree of social success. As these successes mount, their brain seems to integrate better and the symptoms of ASD tend to diminish.

She also noted a high degree of altruism among her prodigies. This suggests the possibility that the left brain damage that is often present in ASD is compensated for by increased functioning of the right hemisphere. Again, allowing this to develop and become integrated with their life can potentially decrease their excessive sensory stimulation.

For more information about this association and what it might mean for future research on ASD consider her book: The Prodigies Cousin: The Genetic Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Talent by JoAnn Ruthsatz and her daughter, Kimberly Stevens.

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