Cerebral Palsy and Autism
Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is sometimes a co-occurring associated condition of cerebral palsy. Whereas cerebral palsy affects motor functioning, autism affects certain areas of brain development.
More About Autism
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH), autism and ASD are general terms for a “group of complex neurodevelopment disorders” distinguished by certain patterns and repetitive patterns generally manifests during early childhood.
Autism covers a wide spectrum, ranging from extremely mild symptoms, to severe symptoms that seriously impact daily living. The word “spectrum” refers to these wide ranges of symptoms. For instance, a child with a low score on the ASD scale may be able to carry daily functions just as anyone who isn’t on the spectrum, while a child who scores high on the spectrum may have extreme difficulties with learning, socializing, talking, and daily functions.
Although there will be different symptoms of autism depending on the severity. some of the most common sign and symptoms can include (keep in mind that the following symptoms do not necessarily mean your child is autistic. Only a physician can provide an official diagnosis):
- Lack of eye contact
- Extreme preoccupation on certain objects or certain topics
- Difficulty seeing things from others’ perspective
- Difficulty with emotions (uncontrollable outbursts)
- Speech delays, including a delay in “babbling” speech as an infant
- Inability to understand body language and voice tones
- Repetitive behavior, such as wanting toys lined a certain way at all times
- Hypersensitive to touch and sound
- Inappropriate or awkward speech, or no speech at all (higher end of the spectrum)
- Difficulties in social situations, including inability to make friends
- Spinning in circles repetitively, flapping hand repetitively
Keep in mind that autistic children don’t always display the same symptoms and the degrees of each symptom can vary, again depending on the severity of the disorder.
There are three types of ASD, which include:
- Autistic Disorder: Significant delays in language, socializing, communicating, restricted behavior (also seen while playing), obsessive behaviors, repetitive body movements. Other symptoms can include unusual gestures, resistance to touching, and difficulties understanding the behavior of others.
- Asperger’s Syndrome: Typically, milder symptoms of autistic disorder, which could be marked by social challenges, repetitive behaviors, strict rituals, lack of eye contact, and outbursts. Other symptoms can include social isolation, feeling nervous in social situations, and clumsy, awkward movements.
- Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS): Difficulty relating to others, unusual play methods with toys and objects, difficulties with changes in routine or schedule, repetitive body movements. Other symptoms can include uneven skills development, transitions difficulties, and problems with verbal and non-verbal communication.
Autism and Cerebral Palsy
According to a study entitled, “Cerebral Palsy, Co-Occurring Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Motor Functioning – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, USA, 2008,” published in the Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology journal, 7% of children with cerebral palsy who participated in the research had autism. The study included numerous children with cerebral palsy who lived in four states: Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
In the children who participated in the study, autism was more common in children with non-spastic cerebral palsy when compared to those with spastic cerebral palsy. The study also found that autism was more prevalent in children with cerebral palsy when compared to children who don’t have the disorder.
In another study, published by the Department of Pediatrics, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, in Alberta, Canada, research indicated that “specific genetic variants” found in some children can have a an impact on issues that contribute to developing both disorders. For examples, the genetic variants can play a hand in both abnormal motor development and abnormal intellectual and social-communication development.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), early intervention treatment services can help children with autism significantly. Early intervention starts between birth until around 3 years of age, and consists of different forms of therapy (physical, occupational, behavioral, play, and speech) that help children with talking, walking, and interacting with other people.
In addition to early intervention therapy, other forms of treatments for children with autism can include:
- Behavior and Communication Approaches/Therapy
- Dietary Approaches
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Although there is no cure for ASD, research indicates with the right combinations of treatment, the majority of children with autism can live productive, quality lives. Furthermore, there may be instances in which a child will not need treatment at all.
For example, a child with mild Asperger’s may benefit by simply being exposed to more social activities within an environment overlooked by caregivers. According to CDC, children with Asperger’s can greatly benefit by being intensive social skills training, whether provided by the community or via teachers.