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Autism is more common today than ever before.  According to the Autism Science Foundation, prevalence of autism was reported as 1 in 10,000.  During the nineties, it decreased to 1 in 2,500 and eventually 1 in 1,000.  In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the occurrence at 1 in 88 (see http://autismsciencefoundation.org/ for more information about autism).  These rates have increased for several different reasons.  Classification criteria have changed, technology in diagnosis methods have become more sensitive, awareness of the disease has increased, and parents have become more engaged in their children’s diagnosis process. Autism is diagnosed and treated along a spectrum.  The causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for individual cases of autism can be quite varied, thus autism is often referred to as a spectrum disease.  Recently, Asperger’s syndrome was repositioned underneath the umbrella of autism.  An individual with this form of autism would experience life quite differently than an individual with autism in which development delays in areas such as cognition and language are key characteristics.

Photo courtesy of http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=27969

With the increased visibility of autism, many people have become more understanding of individual behaviors.  Society today is putting more emphasis on awareness about numerous diseases, autism included.  Increased awareness corresponds with an increased sensitivity to the issues individuals have and the needs associated with these issues.  Inappropriate behavior in class or other socials situations would normally garner a matching social consequence.  Usually, disciplinary action or another negative reaction would be the typical result.  Special provisions and protocols may be put into place for those with social and neurological disorders.  This sets the precedent for different social behaviors in response to irregular behavior that is due to a condition such as autism.

Like many other disorders, autism is thought to have both a genetic and environmental component that predisposes someone to be at risk for developing the disorder.  In the article we read on autism, it was hypothesized that a variety of environmental factors can cause oxidative stress at the cellular level.  These environmental factors, however, do not affect all individuals the same.  Oxidative stress results only for those who are genetically vulnerable.  This is a relatively small set of individuals compared with the population as a whole.  Oxidative stress results in problems with methylation which affects genetic expression, resulting in delayed development and, in some cases, autism as well as dopamine receptor action that results in decreased neuronal synchronicity impairing attention and cognition, a hallmark of autism.

As diagnosis methods become more precise, more knowledge about the individual at the molecular level is gained, and helicopter parents become more perceptive to the medical needs of their children, increases of neurological disorders are being observed across the board.  The question is ever more becoming, How will we define normal?  Will each individual that has even the slightest deviation from the genotypic norm be classified as having a disorder?  With so many variants and possibility for differentiation within our species, it seems that at one point or another, each of us must surely be abnormal once we look hard enough and to the most specific degree.  I believe that what counts the most is how our idiosyncrasies affect the quality of our daily life and functioning.  When a biological abnormality results in an inability to function as one desires, many believe this is what legitimates taking an action to reverse these effects through medication, therapy, or other means.

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