What is Autism?
Autism is a severe developmental brain disorder that usually manifests within the first 3-4 years of a child’s life. Children that are affected by this disorder tend to have difficulty with their communication, language, behavior and social skills. Although children with autism may appear normal, this developmental disorder specifically affects brain function in the areas that are responsible for the development of appropriate social interaction skills and communication.
The incidence of autism is about 1 out of every 110 people; this disorder is more common in males than females (4:1 ratio). Although its cause still remains largely unknown, autism is a lifelong condition. While most children with autism demonstrate normal physical health, this disorder can be affected by both genetic and environmental factors. Early diagnosis and intervention is paramount, as it could significantly improve the child’s communication and social behavior later in life. Educational and Behavioral therapy is the most important thing you can do for an autistic child, along with a lot of love and patience.
What are the early signs and symptoms of autism?
Symptoms and behaviors of those diagnosed with autism vary from each individual, with each child displaying a unique set of behavioral traits. Early symptoms include:
- Lack of eye contact with mother by 12 months of age
- No response when baby’s name is being called by mother
- A baby appearing to be deaf
- A baby resisting when being held by mother
- Not saying single words by the age of 16 months
- No two-word phrases by 24 months
What are some of the ways to recognize children with autism?
Children with autism may display any combination of the following behaviors:
- Approximately 50% of autistic children are non-verbal
- They often run away from their caretakers
- They may appear to be stubborn
- They may exhibit rambling speech
- They may perform self-stimulating behavior such as rocking back and forth or flapping their hands
- They may not respond to you
- They may not be able to answer easy questions
- They may display a sensitivity to light, sound, touch and odor
- They may develop a seizure (usually occurs in 25% of affected children)
How does having autism affect one’s dental care in the office?
New experiences can become a problem for those individuals with autism. Loud noises, such as a dental drill, may irritate the autistic patient. Bright lights may be disturbing and affect behavior; sunglasses may need to be supplied. Certain smells, tastes or textures may become upsetting. The autistic patient may not be comfortable being touched by the dental professional, or tolerate the movement of the chair. It is important that their appointments be short and prompt so that they are not kept waiting. Additionally, the autistic patient may have difficulty communicating the location of their discomfort to the dentist, and may respond to any discomfort in an unusual way.
What can be done to improve the chances of a successful dental visit for an autistic patient?
First, you should contact the dental office to make them aware of any special needs, and to arrange a visit and tour of the office to help make the autistic patient more comfortable with the staff and their surroundings. Use photos, books and toys to help familiarize the patient. By preparing and explaining what is going to happen, you will help instill confidence. Make sure that the patient is accompanied by someone they know well, and encourage them to bring any items, toys or favorite videos that will help comfort them during their visit.
Second, remind the dentist team to ease into any procedure, and to try and avoid sensory overload and sudden movements. The first visit should be a short, quiet and positive appointment. Good behavior should be praised and poor behavior ignored. Everything should be explained and demonstrated before it is done, such as showing the instruments that will be used. Your dental provider should speak calmly and positively, and have the patience to tell the patient where and why they need to touch them with a piece of equipment. Since autistic patients tend to take everything more literally, it is important that they be addressed in specific, short sentences.
How does having autism affect one’s teeth and gums?
Pediatric gastroenterologists have found that children with autism tend to regurgitate their food and the stomach’s acids more than once a week, causing the teeth to erode. The dentist should check the teeth for signs of bruxism (teeth grinding), since this is evident in about 20 to 25 percent of children with autism. Additionally, many of the medications used to treat the various aspects of autism can have adverse dental side effects, which can affect swallowing, speech and the use of removable appliances due to a decrease of salivary flow.
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