Essay 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
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This complements Courchesne's idea that there are fewer Purkinje neurons in the cerebral regions of autistic children. Because Purkinje neurons are responsible for programmed cell death, a lack of them could result in an overabundance of neurons in the brains of autistic infants. If it is to be believed that humans develop many more neurological connections than are needed (the unnecessary neurons undergoing cell suicide in early development), then it stands to reason that a high neural density will result if there is an insufficient number of Purkinje cells. Likewise, the overabundance of neurons in the amygdala and hippocampus can potentially explain why autistics have difficulty responding to too much stimulus at a given moment: their systems overreact to the given input, and they respond by simply not reacting at all. These theories imply that autism has a genetic origin.

Studies of a Massachusetts town have attributed autism to congenital environmental causes. In Leomenster, a high proportion of autistic patients were found in homes "down-wind from the factory smokestacks" (4). Another statistic states that a pregnant woman who either contracts rubella or is given a vaccine for the disease, carries a greater likelihood of having a child affected with autism. It has also been suggested that the pertussis
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