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Medical Resource: A Guide to Understanding Autism

As communities become more diverse, nurses have to learn how to work with different groups of people. That includes children, teenagers, and adults living with autism. Autism, however, presents a complex set of symptoms that can make it difficult to choose an appropriate intervention.
Disability nurses should have the skills to meet the needs of these patients. That way, they can offer medical treatments while making the autistic patient feel as comfortable as possible.

Symptoms of Autism

The symptoms of autism can start to develop during infancy. While most infants try to interact with their environments and other people within a couple months of birth, those with autism do not seem as interested in interaction.

As they get older, they may prefer to play alone instead of with groups.

Many also have difficulty understanding social cues. They may not detect anger or annoyance in others; they may not understand the emotions of others; and they may find themselves rejected by peers who find them "odd."

Without proper training, people with autism can have trouble regulating their emotions. What seems like a minor inconvenience to most people can feel like a world-shattering event to someone with autism.

Other common symptoms include:

Delays in speaking ability
Repetitive use of language
Sleep disturbances
Unusual sensory perception

Autism Has Become More Common

Autism has become increasingly common in recent years. In 2000, about 1 in 150 U.S. children were diagnosed with autism. By 2008, that number had grown to 1 in 88 children.

This means that parents, teachers, and health care professionals need to learn how they can communicate as well as possible with autistic children.

Medication for Treating Autism

Although no one has created a drug that treats autism, researchers have found that certain types of medication can meliorate symptoms of the condition. Antidepressants, for instance, can offer relief to autistic people who experience severe anxiety.

Antipsychotic drugs have even been used to curb extreme behavioral problems.

Nurses Can Use Systematic Desensitization

Hospital environments can seem chaotic and scary to people with autism. Systematic desensitization helps decrease the amount of anxiety that a person feels in certain environments. Someone with autism, for instance, may feel anxious about having blood drawn. Through systematic desensitization, nurses slowly expose the patient to something that causes anxiety.

When working with a person who fears needles, the nurse might start by taking out the needle and just letting it sit in the room, unused, until anxiety falls within acceptable levels. The nurse might then let the autistic person hold the needle. This progresses, step by step, until the nurse can take blood without causing a severe reaction.

Nurses Work With Family Members and Patients

Disability nurses have to consider how treatment will affect patients and the people who care for her at home. If a child has severe autism, then nurses must work with guardians. This helps nurses understand the autistic person's unique symptoms and triggers. Knowing this information gives nurses the ability to avoid triggers so the patient can remain as calm as possible.

Working with families also helps ensure that the autistic person receives proper care at home. Treatments rarely end at the hospital. If caregivers don't know how to administer medications and other treatments, then the autistic patient could end up back in a hospital's care.

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