Autism - Diagnosis

There is no medical test for autism. It is diagnosed by observing a child's behavior, communication skills, and interactions with other people. The problem is that the symptoms of autism are varied, so the disease may not be recognized for a long time. It is easily confused with other diseases with similar symptoms, such as fragile X syndrome and untreated phenylketonuria.

The first step in diagnosing autism is a series of medical tests to rule out other diseases. Then mental health experts use various signs to diagnose the disease. These include:

  • Problems in developing friendships
  • Problems with make-believe or social play
  • Endlessly repeated words or phrases
  • Difficulty in carrying on a conversation
  • Obsessions with rituals
  • Fascination with parts of objects

Some children have some, but not all, of the symptoms of autism. For example, some children exhibit autistic behaviors, but have no problems with language. This condition is known as Asperger syndrome. Some children seem normal at first, but develop autism as they grow older. This condition is known as childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).

Some behavioral treatments for autism are quite simple. An example is the hug box, which was invented by Temple Grandin. Grandin is an adult with autism who has written two books about her life, Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Thinking in Pictures.

Grandin remembers what her childhood years as an autistic were like. One memory she has was the need to feel somebody or something close around her. Sometimes she would crawl under sofa cushions or wrap herself in a blanket. As she grew older Grandin realized that the feeling of pressure all around her helped her to relax.

As an adult, she decided to develop a treatment for other autistic children based on her own experience. So, she invented the hug box.

The hug box consists of two boards covered with padding, which are hinged along one edge to form a V-shaped device. The device is big enough for a child to comfortably crawl in. The two boards can be pushed closer together simply by pushing on a lever. This allows a child to get a short hug or a long hug, a tight hug or a loose hug.

The hug box seems to be successful in helping some autistic children to feel better and relax. They are now being used in many hospitals and care centers around the United States.

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