'Focus on Autism Advantages' - Montreal Professor

By @Len_IBTimes on

In a commentary published on Nov. 2 in the journal Nature, Dr. Laurent Mottron, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, said contemporary scientists should start thinking of autism as an advantage in some brain spheres, instead of viewing its symptoms as "a cross to bear."

Autism is the result of an unconventional brain development of a child, with symptoms such as communication and social interaction challenges, manifesting before a child reaches the age of three.

Mottron particularly cited the activation in regions of some autistic people's brains as advantages, which he said, some scientists describe as deficits.

The activation of some areas in an autistic person's brain could result in an exceptional memory. Others have remarkable auditory and visual skills, while some others do better on non-verbal tests of intelligence compared to non-autistic individuals. With heightened brain function, people with autism can make significant contributions to society in the right environment, said Dr. Mottron.

LiveScience reported that several people with autism work with Dr. Mottron in his lab. For instance, Michelle Dawson, diagnosed with autism and manifests an exemplary memory, has contributed greatly in his lab through her work and insight. She is less likely to misremember anything and therefore very helpful in his science lab, the professor said.

From another scientist's point of view, however, autism should still be looked at as a disorder.

Rajesh Kana, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, echoes Dr. Mottron in a talk with Live Science, saying researchers should not zero in on the weaknesses of an autistic child or individual. However, they need intervention to better help them live day to day with non-autistic persons.

"Your intervention should target the deficits, but work with the strengths," Kana told LiveScience.

In U.S. and Japan, it is common practice to screen all children for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) at 18 and 24 months, using autism-specific formal screening tests. But, in the UK, only children whose families or doctors recognize possible signs of autism are screened.

At home, parents and guardians can observe their toddlers for signs of autism using the following checklist:

-          No babbling by 12 months.

-          No gesturing (pointing, waving bye-bye, etc.) by 12 months.

-          No single words by 16 months.

-          No two-word spontaneous (not just echolalic) phrases by 24 months.

-          Any loss of any language or social skills, at any age.

An 1999 article in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders said the checklist above is composed of common milestones for children under three years old. This list should help adults at home to look for signs of autism, as failure to meet any of the following milestones "is an absolute indication to proceed with further evaluations."

"Delay in referral for such testing may delay early diagnosis and treatment and affect the long-term outcome," the  article read. The article is the resulting consensus of representatives from an assembly of nine professional and four parent organizations in the US.

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