Autism: When the brain gets in the way
First described by Austrian child psychiatrist Leo Kanner in 1943, autism in many ways continues to be a mystery. It’s a brain development disorder for which there is still no cure: an autistic child will become an autistic adult. While research is ongoing, psychosocial support can ease the burden on young patients, gradually making them more independent.
Appearing in early childhood, the first signs of autism can manifest at as early as 6 months of age. The various forms of the disorder are grouped into a broader category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which better encompasses the vast range of symptoms and situations. Major symptoms include, among others, an impairment in social relationships and communication (language and nonverbal communication, repetitive or stereotypical behavior and speech). People with autism have a social disability, appearing to be walled off in their own world or easily overwhelmed on a sensory level.
Autism is sometimes, but not always, associated with sleep disorders, depressive or anxiety disorders, learning difficulties, attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD), and epilepsy.
The intellectual level of those with ASD varies greatly, ranging from profound impairment to superior capability. For example, there are some people with Asperger’s syndrome who have become famous for their scientific or artistic talent, such as pianist Glenn Gould, world chess champion Bobby Fischer, and physicist Paul Dirac.
Genetic and environmental causes
Psychosocial care is based first and foremost on behavioral therapy and parent training programs. Such programs are individualized and adapted according to the development of the child, then the adolescent, and then the adult. Based to a large degree on play, targeted approaches are aimed at developing language, cognitive skills, behavior, and emotional control. The objective is to make the child as independent as possible.
These methods involve using exercises and small gestures/actions intended to structure the child’s environment, organization, temporality, and space, enabling the child to acquire new skills.
Potential avenues for medical research
To date, there is no medicinal treatment that can cure or even alleviate autism. Certain medications are prescribed to treat associated conditions. Research continues: promising treatment avenues include medicinal products that reduce symptoms by lowering the concentration of chlorine in brain cells.
Servier has been present in the field of neuroscience for several decades. Research and development teams focus their work on neurodegenerative disorders, targeting toxic proteins responsible for neuronal degeneration, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders, in order to provide innovative therapeutic solutions.
EARLY TREATMENTThe earlier the treatment, the better the results. If there are observable warning signs starting at 6 months of age, clinical diagnosis can be made from 18 months.
BEWARE OF FAKE NEWSAutism is a syndrome that is still poorly understood, so beware of misleading or incorrect information: The disorder has nothing to do with the character of the parents, or with their education. Neither screens nor measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccinations are responsible for autism. The persistent mistrust of vaccines is based on an erroneous study. All links have been categorically ruled out.
CONTACT ASSOCIATIONSDo not hesitate to contact associations that can provide information and help to patients, children or adults, as well as to their parents.