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Autism: a Disorder of Conflicting Causes and Treatments

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Autism: A Disorder of Conflicting Causes and Treatments

Despite its 50 year-old diagnosis, autism is still one of the mostly commonly contracted and rarely treated childhood diseases. Studies suggest that as many as 1 in 500 children may display autistic symptoms. Manifestations of this disability include the stereotypical physical contortions and hand-flapping motions commonly associated with autism, as well as inability to relate to the outside world, limited social skills, lack of concentration, and hypersensitivity to certain stimuli-particularly noise (1). Perceived causes include poor fetal development, genetics, allergies, and a lack of crucial enzymes. Because for many years the disorder was thought to be a result of poor parenting, only recent studies have begun any attempts to identify the causes of childhood autism. Many diagnosis and potential treatments have been tried only by the parents of autistics; undergoing research is still slow and often under-funded.
Eric Courchesne (2), a leading scientist whose studies of the cerebellum have opened a new field of belief for the region's potential functions, suggested that autistics have a marked propensity for cerebellar lesions and Purkinje neuron loss, leading to an inability to "rapidly and accurately" change attention from one focus to another, particularly in the areas of visual and auditory stimuli.

Dr. Margaret Bauman, (Dept. of Neurology, Harvard Medical School and a child neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston), and Dr. Thomas Kemper (Depts. of Neurology, Anatomy, and Pathology, Boston University School of Medicine) have a different hypothesis (3) which nonetheless correlates with Courchesne's theory. They believe that a dysfunctional neural structure may result in autistic behavior. Bauman and Kemper have discovered that the amygdala and hippocampus (parts of the limbic…...

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