Diagnosis and Treatment
The May Institute
is a developmental disability that typically appears during the
first three years of life, says Dennis Russo, Ph.D., ABPP,
chief clinical officer at May Institute. It is a neurological
disorder that affects the development of the brain, causing difficulty
with communication, learning, and social interaction.
to Russo, symptoms of autism include language that is slow to develop,
lack of sociability, and unusual repetitive behaviors.
are no medical tests for diagnosing autism, but when parents become
concerned about developmental delays in their children, they should
consult their pediatrician, says Russo. Your doctor
can rule out various potential medical causes for developmental
delays such as hearing and/or voice problems. Before a child can
be diagnosed with autism, he or she should be evaluated by a multi-disciplinary
team that may include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental
pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning specialist, or
another professional knowledgeable about the disorder.
one specific cause has not been identified, current research links
autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain. It
is believed to have a genetic basis, but a particular gene has not
been directly linked to the disorder. Researchers are using advanced
brain-imaging technology to examine environmental factors that may
contribute to the development of autism. MRI (Magnetic Resonance
Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans can show abnormalities
in the structure of the brain, with significant cellular differences
in the cerebellum.
and other pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), such as Asperger
Syndrome, occur in approximately one in 250 individuals, Russo
explains. The number of identified cases of autism is on the
rise, and it is now the second most common developmental disability,
after mental retardation. It is five times as common as Down syndrome
and four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls."
researchers agree that the sooner an autistic child begins an intervention
program, the better, continues Russo. At this time,
the best approach for the treatment of autistic children involves
special educators, psychologists, speech and occupational therapists.
Although medications are sometimes used to manage problematic features
of autism, there are currently no medications that effectively treat
the core symptoms.
mainstay of an effective intervention program is applied behavior
analysis or ABA. In ABA, scientifically established principles of
learning and behavior are combined to address the primary areas
of concern in autism: communication, social development, learning,
and behavior problems.
recommends that parents look for a program that provides direct
consultation by senior clinicians, an experienced staff, and approaches,
such as ABA, that are referenced in professional literature. In
addition," he says, families should strive to create
a professional working relationship with educators and clinicians.
Autism is a long journey, and a partner can make all the difference.
Look for professionals who are knowledgeable, caring, and can work
well with school administrators.
May Institute offers early intervention services, home-and school-based
consultation, parent information, and federally funded research
and education programs. May operates schools for children and adolescents
with autism, PDD, and other developmental disabilities in Arlington,
Braintree, and Chatham, Mass., and in Freeport, Maine. For more
information, contact the May Institute at 1-800-778-7601, or at