Mental Illness - Autism

The following sample essay on the topic “Mental Illness – Autism” will explain the history and background of the disease, signs and symptoms, and identify neurotransmitters associated with autism. It also describes the treatment and how the patient’s environment can help or hinder successful treatment.

The word autism, which has been in use for about 100 years, comes from the Greek word autos, meaning  self. The term describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction- hence a isolated self.

Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, was the first person to use the word. He started using it around 1911 to refer to one group of symptoms of schizophrenia. In the 1940s, researchers in the United States began to use the term autism to describe children with emotional or social problems.

Leo Kanner, a doctor from John Hopkins University, used the term to describe the withdrawn behavior of several children that he studied. At about the same time, Hans Asperger, a scientist in Germany, identified a similar condition thats now called Aspergers syndrome.

Autism and schizophrenia remained linked in many researchers minds until the 1960s.

It was only then that medical professionals began to have a separate understanding of autism in children. From the 1960s through the 1970s, research into treatments for autism focused on medications such as LSD, electric shock, and behavioral change techniques. The latter relied on pain and punishment. During the 1980s and 1990s, the role of behavior therapy and the use of highly controlled learning environments emerged as the primary treatments for many forms of autism and related conditions.

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Currently, the cornerstone of autism therapy is behavior therapy.  Other treatments are added as needed. There are different types of autism. There is Autistic disorder, Pervasive development disorder, Aspergers syndrome, Rhett syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder.

One symptom common to all types of autism is an inability to easily communicate and interact with others. In fact, some people with autism are unable to communicate or interact at all. Others may have difficulty interpreting body language or holding a conversation. Some other symptoms linked to autism may include unusual behaviors in several different areas. Such as, interest in objects or specialized information, reactions to sensations, and ways of learning. These symptoms are usually seen early in development.

Most children with severe autism are diagnosed by the age of three. Some children with milder forms of autism, such as Aspergers syndrome, may not be diagnosed until later when their problems with social interaction cause difficulties at school. Many children with autism engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head banging.

Patients with autism may fail to respond to their name and often avoid eye contact. They also cannot understand social cues such as tone of voice or facial expressions. Scientists are not certain about what causes autism, but it is likely that both genetics and environment play a role. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder. Studies of people with autism have found irregularities in several parts of the brain.

Other studies suggest that people with autism have abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain. These abnormalities suggest that autism could result from the disruption of normal brain development early in fetal development caused by defects in genes that control brain growth and that regulate how brain cells communicate with each other, possibly due to the influence of environmental factors on gene function. This is why patients with autism have a hard time communicating and social interactions.

Autism varies widely in severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps. Very early indicators that require an evaluation by an expert include: no babbling or pointing by the age of one, no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by the age of two, no response to name, loss of language or social skills, poor eye contact, excessive lining up of toys or objects, and no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include: impaired ability to make friends with peers, impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others, absence or impairment of imaginative and social play, stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language, restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus, preoccupation with subjects or objects, and inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals. Health care providers will often use a questionnaire or other screening instruments to gather information about a childs development and behavior.

Some screening instruments rely solely on parent observations, while others rely on a combination of parent and doctor observation. If screening instruments indicate the possibility of autism a more comprehensive evaluation is usually indicated. A comprehensive evaluation requires a multidisciplinary team, including a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and other professionals that diagnose children with autism. The team members will conduct a thorough neurological assessment and in-depth cognitive and language testing. Because hearing problems can cause behaviors that can be mistaken for autism.

There is no cure for autism. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring out substantial improvement. The ideal treatment coordinates therapies with interventions that meet the specific needs of each individual child. One treatment option is education/behavioral interventions. Therapist use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis.

Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with autism often helps families cope with the particular challenges of living with a child with autism. Another treatment option is medications. Doctors may prescribe medications for treatment of specific autism-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Antipsychotic are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more anticonvulsant drugs. Medication used to treat people with attention deficit disorder can be used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Also physical therapy and occupational therapy may need to be used. It is extremely important that a patients environment be controlled. Patients with autism do better with a daily routine or schedule. The parents of the patients need to make sure that treatment is followed exactly as instructed and that their environment stays the same. Because if not it can cause the patient to get worse or retract and make the condition worse than it already is. With a positive home life and environment patients with autism can get better. It is very important that the parents stay supportive of their special needs child.

Diagnosis and treatments today are much better compared to the past when autism first came about. In the past they used harsh treatments such as electric-shock therapy and very painful techniques. Also many patients were locked away in psych wards and misdiagnosed. Today we have much better diagnosis and treatments to help patients with the disease. We have teams of doctors that work closely with each other and the parents of the patients to make sure that the right treatment is working. The diagnosis is much less painful. The treatment options today are much more individualized to each patients symptoms and specific needs. Considering that there are many forms of autism and each patients symptoms are different. We also have a variety of medications available now to treat many different symptoms.


  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Last updated: November 4, 2011. Autism Fact Sheet. Retrieved from:
  2. WebMD, LLC. 2005-2011. Autism Spectrum Disorders. Retrieved from:

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Mental Illness - Autism. (2018, Aug 08). Retrieved from

Mental Illness - Autism
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