Autism: Background information when reading Black Fridays

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Black Fridays

by Michael Sears

Black Fridays by Michael Sears
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2012, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2013, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Autism

Print Review

In Black Fridays, the main character, Jason Stafford, has primary care of his son, who is autistic.

Autism Awareness Ribbon Merriam Webster's Concise Encyclopedia defines autism as a "neurobiological disorder that affects physical, social, and language skills. First described by Leo Kanner (1894 -1981) and Hans Asperger (1906 - 1980) in the 1940s, the syndrome usually appears before two years of age. Autistic infants appear indifferent or averse to affection and physical contact. They may be slow in learning to speak and suffer episodes of rage or panic; they may also appear deaf and display an almost hypnotic fascination with certain objects. Autism is often characterized by rhythmic body movements such as rocking or hand-clapping and by an obsessive desire to prevent change in daily routines. Autistic individuals may be hypersensitive to some stimuli (e.g., high-pitched sounds) and abnormally slow to react to others (e.g., physical pain). The disorder is three to four times more common in males. Though postnatal factors such as lack of parental attention were once blamed, it is now known that autism is the result of abnormalities in the brain structure. About 15 - 20% of autistic adults live and work independently; "high-functioning" autistic people may have special abilities based on their unusual ability for visual thinking.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network determined that approximately 1 in 88 children in the United States (1 in 54 for boys, and 1 in 252 for girls) is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorders are complex, brain-based disorders that affect a person's behavior as well as social and communication skills.

Because autism can be detected in infancy, periodic developmental screenings are advised. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that signal further evaluation is warranted:

  • Does not babble or coo by 12 months
  • Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
  • Does not say single words by 16 months
  • Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
  • Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age

Exhibiting any of these behaviors doesn't mean a child has autism; it's simply an indication that further assessment may be necessary. Early detection and intervention can make a great deal of difference to the child's quality of life. Autism can't be cured, but symptoms can be managed. Treatment options include:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a technique to change behaviors by systematically encouraging positive behaviors and discouraging negatives ones
  • Speech therapy, which may include the use of gestures or sign language for those unable to develop verbal skills
  • Occupational therapy to help children develop fine motor skills such as dressing, using utensils, and writing
  • Physical therapy, which works to make the child aware of their body in space, and concentrates on skills such as walking, coordination and balance
  • Pharmaceutical treatments designed to lessen behavioral symptoms including irritability and aggression. The two most commonly used drugs are Risperidone and Aripriprazole

The Autism Science Foundation also advises parents to critically evaluate potential treatments, as many non-evidence-based treatments exist that are at best ineffective and at worst harmful (and often quite expensive).

Autism is often confused with Asperger's Syndrome (aka Asperger's Disorder). Indeed, at one point many professionals felt those with Asperger's Syndrome had a less acute form of autism. In 1994, however, it was added to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a disorder distinct from autism. Although Asperger's is similar to autism, it is differentiated by less severe symptoms and the absence of language development delays. According to the Autism Society, "Children with autism are frequently seen as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with Asperger's Disorder. Individuals with Asperger's Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others; they simply don't know how to do it. They may be socially awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation, and not understand the use of gestures."

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article was originally published in November 2012, and has been updated for the September 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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