ASK YOUR PHARMACIST
Autism (Part 1)
Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. Tel 044 93 34591
This is the first of two articles in the Examiner on autism.
What is Autism?
Whilst on its own, autism is not a learning disability or a mental health problem, some people with autism will have an accompanying learning disability, learning difficulty or mental health problem. Globally, autism occurs in 1-2 per 1000 people, with males five times more likely to be affected than females. It is suspected that the number of adults living with the condition is vastly underestimated.
Autism is a spectrum condition. This means that while all people with autism share certain difficulties, the condition affects each person differently. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterised by:
- Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities;
- Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (typically recognized in the first two years of life);
- Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
Causes remain largely unknown. It is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Evidence suggest complex genetic factors play a part in some forms of autism but there is no single cause.
Factors thought to increase the risk of developing ASD, known as ‘risk factors’, can usually be divided into five main categories:
- Genetic factors – certain genetic mutations may make a child more likely to develop ASD.
- Environmental factors – during pregnancy. Some suggested environmental factors include being born before 35 weeks of pregnancy (premature birth) and exposure to alcohol or medications such as sodium valproate (a medication sometimes used to treat epilepsy) during pregnancy.
- Psychological factors – people with ASD may think in certain ways that contribute towards their symptoms.
- Neurological factors – specific problems with the development of the brain and nervous system could contribute to the symptoms of ASD.
- Other health conditions – certain health conditions associated with higher rates of ASD.
Some myths about Autism (dispelled!)
There are many myths and misconceptions about autism. Here are some of them. Autism:
….. is the childhood form of schizophrenia
Some early researchers believed that autism was the childhood form of schizophrenia. However we now have evidence that autism is completely distinct from schizophrenia, with different causes and effects.
….. is caused by a lack of maternal affection
Professor Bruno Bettelheim believed that autism was caused by a lack of maternal affection. This led to the concept of the ‘refrigerator mother’ i.e. a mother who was emotionally distant. This theory has since been disproved. There is now evidence that autism has nothing to do with lack of affection from parents. Most mothers and fathers of children with autism are extremely caring and loving parents.
….. is caused by the MMR vaccine
The idea that autism is caused by the MMR vaccine was first suggested by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in a research study published in 1998. However this study has since been shown to be seriously flawed and fraudulent. There have been many studies which show that there appears to be no causative link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
….. can be cured
Autism is a lifelong condition. Symptoms can be managed and with the right support a person can have a normal and productive life.
To be continued….next week
This article is shortened to fit within Newspaper space limits. More detailed information and leaflets is available in Whelehans