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11. Do autistic children commonly suffer from other illnesses?

Individuals with autism often have symptoms of various mental disorders that occur at the same time. These disorders include: ADHD, psychoses, depressive disorders, tics, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other anxiety disorders. About one third of children and adolescents with autism develop seizures.

Sensory problems. When children’s perceptions are accurate, they can learn from what they see, feel, or hear. On the other hand, if sensory information is faulty, the child’s experiences of the world can be confusing.

Many autistic children are highly attuned or even painfully sensitive to certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Some children find the feel of clothes touching their skin almost unbearable. Some sounds - a vacuum cleaner, a ringing telephone, a sudden storm, even the sound of waves lapping the shoreline - will cause these children to cover their ears and scream.

In autism, the brain seems unable to balance the senses appropriately. Some autistic children are oblivious to extreme cold or pain. An autistic child may fall and break an arm, yet never cry. Another may bash his or her head against a wall and not wince, but a light touch may make the child scream with alarm.

Mental retardation. Many children with autism have some degree of mental impairment. When tested, some areas of ability may be normal, while others may be especially weak. For example, a child with autism may do well on the parts of the test that measure visual skills but earn low scores on the language subtests. Seizures. One in four children with autism develops seizures, often starting in either early childhood or adolescence. Seizures, caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, can produce a temporary loss of consciousness (a “blackout”), a body convulsion, unusual movements, or staring spells. Sometimes a contributing factor is a lack of sleep or a high fever.

An electroencephalogram (EEG) can help confirm the seizure’s presence. In most cases, seizures can be controlled by a number of medicines called anticonvulsants. The dosage of the medication is adjusted carefully so that the least possible amount of medication will be used to be effective.

Fragile X syndrome. This disorder is the most common inherited form of mental retardation. It was so named because one part of the X chromosome has a defective piece that appears pinched and fragile when under a microscope. Fragile X syndrome affects about 2 to 5 percent of people with autism. It is important to have a child with autism checked for fragile X, especially if the parents are considering having another child. For an unknown reason, if a child with autism also has fragile X syndrome, there is a one-in-two chance that boys born to the same parents will have the syndrome. Other members of the family who may be contemplating having a child may also wish to be checked for the syndrome.

Tuberous sclerosis. Tuberous sclerosis is a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain as well as in other vital organs. It has a consistently strong association with autism. One to 4 percent of people with autism also have tuberous sclerosis.

Terms:

Tourette’s syndrome - An inherited,neurological disorder characterized by repeated and involuntary body movements (tics) and uncontrollable vocal sounds.In a minority of cases,the vocalizations can include socially inappropriate words and phrases;this is called coprolalia.These outbursts are neither intentional nor purposeful.Involuntary symptoms can include eye blinking,repeated throat clearing or sniffing,arm thrusting, kicking movements, shoulder shrugging,or jumping.

The disturbance causes marked distress or significant impairment in social, occupational,or other important areas of functioning.

Many autistic children – are highly attuned or even painfully sensitive to certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells.

Electroencephalogram (EEG) - A test that uses electrodes placed on the scalp to record electrical brain activity. It is often used to diagnose seizure disorders or to look for abnormal brain wave patterns.

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