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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also known as just autism, is an umbrella term for a group of complex brain development disorders.
Unlike cerebral palsy, which mostly affects a child’s motor functioning, autism affects the normal development of the brain in areas such as social interaction, problem-solving and communication.
Autism is characterized by varying degrees of difficulty related to social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. A child with a co-occurring condition will require a treatment and therapy plan that is best suited for their individual needs.
Autism is a complex disorder that can be caused by an array of factors. ASDs have no single known cause, but there are at least three aspects that researchers agree contribute to the development of autism, including:
There are several biological differences in children with ASDs compared to children who do not have autism. Some of these genes can affect brain development and the ways in which brain cells communicate. Some genetic problems appear to be inherited, while others can occur spontaneously.
Due to the relationship between genetics and autism, parents who have one child with autism have an increased risk that their next child will also have an ASD. Additionally, if you have two children with autism, the chances that your third child will have autism increase to about 35%.
Environmental factors have recently been recognized as a potential cause of autism. Researchers are currently investigating the connection between things such as viral infections and air pollutants and the subsequent development of autism.
There are various maternal conditions or illnesses that have been tied to autism in children. These include diabetes, hypertension and obesity during pregnancy. Additionally, a mother’s use of drugs or alcohol while pregnant has been linked as a potential cause of autism in children.
Autism can affect individuals of every gender, race and socioeconomic status. However, there are certain aspects that can increase the likelihood that a child will develop an ASD.
Some risk factors that increase the chances of developing an ASD are:
Individuals with an ASD have different ways of learning, paying attention and reacting to sensations and situations. The comprehension and learning capabilities of individuals with an ASD can vary from being extremely gifted in one field to severely challenged in others.
The five general types of ASDs are:
Autistic disorder is a brain development disorder that is often present during early childhood. This type of ASD is characterized by difficulty communicating and forming relationships with others, as well as trouble grasping language and abstract concepts.
Signs of autistic disorder include:
Also referred to as Asperger’s disorder, Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that involves a delay in the development of many basic skills. While Asperger’s syndrome is similar to autistic disorder, there are a few distinct differences.
Children with Asperger’s syndrome are typically higher functioning than those with autism, and they usually have normal intelligence and language development.
Signs of Asperger’s syndrome include:
Individuals who meet some, but not all, of the criteria for autistic disorder and Asperger’s syndrome may be diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder, or PDD. Children with PDD usually have fewer and milder symptoms of autistic behavior and development. The symptoms of PDD mostly cause challenges in regards to social interaction and communication.
Signs of Pervasive Development Disorder include:
Rett syndrome is a rare neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in girls, however it is possible in boys as well. This condition can lead to severe impairments that affect nearly every aspect of a child’s life. Rett syndrome can hinder a child’s ability to speak, walk, eat and even breathe easily on their own. A distinct symptom associated with this syndrome is constant, repetitive hand movements.
Signs of Rett syndrome include:
Childhood disintegrative disorder, or Heller’s syndrome, is a rare condition characterized by a gradual decrease in development. Children with PDD usually show signs of a typical development up until the age of 3 or 4. Then, over usually a few months, children lose language, motor, social and other skills that they have already acquired. For example, a child who previously spoke in phrases of a few words will gradually or abruptly lose the ability to communicate altogether.
Signs of Childhood Disintegrative Disorder include:
The connection between autism and cerebral palsy is not exactly direct – however, because of the similarities within developmental disorders, it is common for autism and cerebral palsy to co-occur.
Cerebral palsy is the result of brain damage that occurs before, during or shortly after birth. Autism is also a brain development disorder, but it tends to progress after age two or three when a child’s language and communication skills begin to show an obvious delay.
Due to both cerebral palsy and autism involving some kind of umbrella diagnosis of brain damage, children with CP can also display symptoms of autism. Both conditions have varying degrees of severity, which can make it difficult to form a clear diagnosis of co-existing autism and cerebral palsy during the early childhood years.
The best way to determine if a child has both cerebral palsy and autism is by seeking an evaluation from a team of specialists experienced in the way that these conditions can co-exist.
If it is determined that a child has autism and cerebral palsy, there are various treatment options available to ensure that they are able to live life to the fullest, despite their diagnosis. A specific treatment plan will depend on the type of cerebral palsy and the type of autism a child has.
A treatment program will be put together by trained medical professionals who will examine a child’s mobility and cognitive abilities and determine the best course of action for their future.
Common treatment methods for co-existing autism and cerebral palsy are:
Physical therapy – This form of therapy can help improve coordination, balance and posture among children with CP and autism.
Speech therapy – Speech therapy can help articulation, language, vocabulary development and word comprehension.
Occupational therapy – Occupational therapy is used to help children with everyday activities and functions, such as eating, dressing, and using the bathroom.
Medications – There are medications available to help reduce common side-effects associated with cerebral palsy and autism, such as seizures.
Surgery – Surgery is used to relieve stiff muscles and improve neural functioning, which can help a child with a co-occurring disorder such as autism.
If you suspect that your child’s co-existing autism and cerebral palsy were the result of medical negligence, contact us today for a free case evaluation.
Kimberlee is a writer and researcher who is passionate about helping children with disabilities enjoy a happy, healthy life. She works closely with our attorneys to create content that educates the families and caretakers of children with cerebral palsy.