What is autism and how is it treated?

Autism is a group of brain development disorders that have a variety of manifestations. The hallmark of autism is the disability to interact normally with others using both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Essentially, autism interferes with the affected person’s ability to communicate, interact socially, and behave normally in social situations.

Autism affects children of all nationalities and races

girl holding cards

A cinematic depiction of a person with autism spectrum disorder can be seen in the Academy Award-winning movie Rain Man (1988) starring Dustin Hoffman as “Ray” and Tom Cruise as his brother “Charlie.”

In 2013 physicians decided to collectively call the variations and subtypes of autism (including Asperger syndrome) “autism spectrum disorder.” There is no current way to detect autism spectrum disorder in-utero (prior to birth). There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder.

autism puzzle

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by any one or any combinations of the following:

Difficulties with social interactions
Difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication
Intellectual disabilities
Difficulties with motor coordination
Sleep disturbances
Gastrointestinal problems
Engagement in repetitive behaviors

Interestingly, a significant portion of people with autism spectrum disorder is extremely skilled with respect to one or more areas involving visual skills, art, music, problem-solving, memory skills and mathematics. In many cases, they harbor savant (highly gifted) skills.

Autism spectrum disorder probably begins in early brain development, but the outward manifestations become apparent between the ages of one and four. Although the development of all children can vary significantly, early detection can lead to early intervention and treatment, which can dramatically affect outcomes and the quality of life for persons with autism spectrum disorder.

autism awareness

Improved outcomes are seen with increased learning skills, communication skills, and social skills. Doctors say that the warning signs can be seen as early as one year of age.

Over three million persons are affected with autism spectrum disorder in the United States. Somewhere between one and two percent of all children are affected with autism spectrum disorder (approximately one in 60 births). Boys are approximately four times more likely to be affected with autism spectrum disorder than girls.

Scientists have discovered that the incidence of autism spectrum disorder has been increasing over the past few decades. It is unclear if the increased diagnosis rate is a result of better diagnostic criteria or environmental factors or both.

According to the AdCouncil, AutismSpeaks, and the Mayo Clinic, early warning signs include:

No large smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or after that
No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months
No babbling by 12 months
No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
No words by 16 months
No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age
Fails to respond to one’s name when called
Performs repetitive movements such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping
May be extremely sensitive to light and loud sounds or noises
Engages in ritualistic and repetitive behaviors and may become extremely annoyed if the routine is disrupted
Rarely makes direct eye contact
Does not like to be touched or cuddled or hugged
Does not engage in imaginative play behaviors
May not have a normal pain response
Strange vocal tones and patterns
Delayed speech or loss of speech
Strange or very limited food preferences
Difficulty expressing feelings or emotions
May become very disruptive in social situations

It is important to become familiar with these and other developmental milestones for toddlers. If a parent or caregiver suspects anything amiss, they should talk to their pediatrician about a simple screening test called the “Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers.”

The exact diagnosis needs to be made by a physician experienced with autism spectrum disorder. Even though there is no cure, early diagnosis and intensive intervention can improve learning abilities and behavior and increase the ability to interact socially with others. If you suspect a child has autism spectrum disorder, check with your doctor immediately for a screening examination.

What causes autism spectrum disorder?

The exact cause is not fully understood, but it is generally accepted that the cause is usually a combination of genetic mutations and environmental factors that affect early brain development.

These environmental factors include but are not limited to advanced parental age, conditions that decrease available oxygen to the developing baby, maternal illness during pregnancy, and lack of certain vitamins including folic acid. It should be noted that any one of these does not cause autism spectrum disorder, but rather a complex combination of these with the background of genetic predisposition.

Additional risk factors for autism include:

Being male (the male-to-female ratio for autism is 4:1)
Certain other genetic conditions (including, but not limited to, Fragile X syndrome, Tuberous sclerosis, Rett’s syndrome and Tourette’s syndrome)
Pre-term birth
History of other family members with autism

After exhaustive research, doctors state emphatically that there is no connection between developing autism and receiving childhood vaccines. Earlier reports linking vaccinations and autism have been completely debunked.

How is autism treated?

Every person with autism spectrum disorder is unique. As a result, every treatment plan should be customized. The goal is to improve learning skills, attention, behavior, and ability to interact socially.

The treatment will involve the entire family, physicians, teachers and skilled therapists. Both behavioral and medicinal treatments may be required, and the treatment program’s goals will evolve as the child grows. There are many great educational programs available for a person with autism spectrum disorder from toddlers to adults.

The best improvement in autism spectrum disorder symptoms is directly related to early diagnosis and behavioral intervention. Many people with autism spectrum disorder who receive appropriate intervention and guidance will live independent, rich and rewarding lives.

All persons with autism spectrum disorder deserve the opportunity to live meaningful, productive and enjoyable lives with gratifying relationships. With a better understanding of autism spectrum disorder and interventional support programs, those affected by autism spectrum disorder are living fulfilling and remunerative lives.

For more information, visit AutismSpeaks.org.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.

The 3-Second Downloads That Will Save You from a Nasty Sunburn

Reader’s Digest Article

Tanning isn’t the smartest thing you can do for your skin, but burning is far worse. Now there are smartphone apps that can help you enjoy the sun while minimizing the inevitable damage to your skin.
By Lauren Cahn

Readers DigestAh, that golden glow of a suntan. It makes us look and feel more attractive, but suntanning comes at a hefty price: irreversible damage to your skin. Even if you manage to avoid burning, you’re still in for premature wrinkling, sagging, and blotching, and you’re significantly raising your risk of skin cancer, including the deadly kind, melanoma. If only there were a hack of sorts for sunbathing—some way to get that beautiful bronzed look without the problems associated with sun exposure.

Well there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that if you’ve got a smartphone, you can download any number of apps that purport to make a science out of how long and under which circumstances you can bask safely in the sun while minimizing the damage to your skin. We’ll get to them just as soon as we let you in on the bad news, which is that we polled dermatologists from all over the country, and they agreed unanimously: There’s simply no such thing as a safe suntan. We may perceive it as attractive, but a suntan is nothing more than “your body’s defense system against the sun, and more specifically, the UV radiation that the sun emits,” according to Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Medical Director of Minnesota’s Crutchfield Dermatology.

UV radiation, commonly known as “UV rays,” represent about 10 percent of the total light emitted from the sun, according to Fraye L. Frey, MD, a board certified dermatologist located in West Nyack, New York, and can be further broken down as follows:

UVC: These rays gets filtered out by the earth’s ozone layer (and are therefore not of immediate concern)
UVB: These rays cause sunburns but are also a natural source of vitamin D, which is crucial to good health (although Dr. Crutchfield points out that Vitamin D can be sourced naturally from tuna, salmon, eggs, cheese, D-fortified foods, and D vitamin supplements)
UVA: These rays penetrate the skin deeply, can fracture DNA, and are associated with premature skin aging, dark patches, wrinkles and skin cancer

“The intensity of UV light can be measured with a variety of instruments that are commercially available,” says Dr. Frey. Specifically, what is measured is the amount of UV radiation in any given locale at any given time, according to Jerome Potozkin, MD, a board certified dermatologist in Danville, California. That measurement is placed on an international index scale known as UVI, and forms the basis for the smartphone apps that purport to help you strategize your sunbathing. “The scale goes from 0 to 10, with the high number meaning the greater risk of sunburn from UV exposure,” adds Carolyn M. Kassabian, MD, a board licensed dermatologist with the Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California. “When the UVI is 6, it’s twice as easy to burn than if the UVI were 3.”

So what does that mean in terms of how long you can stay in the sun on any given day and with what level of protection? These smartphone apps were designed to crunch the numbers for you:

iTanSmart uses your phone’s GPS to determine your location, space satellites to measure the UVI in your location, and information that you input about yourself and your environment to tell you exactly how long you can be in the sun without burning. Except for the GPS and the space satellites, all of the information is self-reported, so you’ll need to be honest when inputting your eye color, hair color, tendency to burn, blister, tan, or freckle. You’ll also need to describe where you are (beach? mountain? city?) admit your goal (avoid sunburn versus get a savage tan). If you’re looking to use iTanSmart to develop a tan, you’ll have to pay an extra fee of $1.99, and whether it’s worth it will depend upon many factors, not the least of which is whether you’re prepared to accept the damage you’re doing to your skin in the process (which iTanSmart is fully transparent about reminding you).
SunZapp provides the same functions as iTanSmart but also assesses the sun protection you are getting from the clothes you tell the app you’re wearing. The results it spits out after you answer all its questions and does its UVI reading are easy to parse. In addition, even without all the warnings that iTanSmart provides, SunZapp’s vibe seems to lean more toward protecting your skin from the sun and away from getting tan.
My Tan Expert does essentially what iTanSmart and Sunzapp do, but slightly more complicated. MyTanExpert not only asks the usual battery of questions about your skin, hair, and eyes, but it also asks you to take a photo of your skin beside a white napkin. You provide the white napkin, and getting your skin and the napkin to fit into their respective outlines while taking the photo yourself, one-handed, is no easy task. Once you complete it, however, it’s difficult to understand what the recommendations mean. For example, it tells me, a very pale, freckly, redheaded, blue-eyed person that my skin can take “another 90 percent of the daily dose of ultraviolet radiation.” What?

It seems, however, that with a minimal understanding of UV rays, the following apps, which do little more than provide a UVI reading and a short and simple sun-protection recommendation, could also help you plan a sun-safe strategy every day:

UV Meter tells you the UVI at your current location and offers practical recommendations for sun protection (including not only sunscreen but also protective clothing) as well predictions on how long it will take before you get sunburned.
The EPA’s SunWise UV Index also tells you the UVI at your current location, offers practical recommendations for sun protection (including not only sunscreen but also protective clothing), including the recommendation to “seek shade.” Plus, the app was designed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which is an excellent source of hard-hitting information about the current state of the ozone layer, which may have an impact on the way our skin is affected by UVCs.
Ultraviolet UV Index very simply and quite beautifully shows the current UVI for your locale as well as any other location in the world. In addition, it provides simple, easy-to-understand instructions on how to expose yourself to that day’s rays as safely as possible.
QSun has functions similar to those described for these other apps, but it adds further value by making sunscreen recommendations, including using your own weight and height to tell you exactly how much sunscreen to apply in order to maximize the sunscreen’s effectiveness.

Regardless of the UVI, Dr. Kassabian tells her patients to apply sunscreen with an SPF of between 30 and 50 every single day. “This gets them in the habit of applying regularly, and they are less likely to forget and consequently, less likely to burn.” She also recommends practicing sun avoidance measures, such as wearing a hat and a long-sleeved shirt, and seeking shade whenever possible. These are the sunscreens dermatologists use on themselves.

Dr. Crutchfield adds that your SPF of 30 or higher should provide not only UVB protection, but also broad spectrum protection so that it blocks the UVA rays as well. “Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure,” he advises, “and reapply every one to two hours, and more often if perspiring or swimming.”

You can still sport a bronzed look this summer if you want—if you get it from a bottle. As Dr. Potozkin says, “The only safe tan is one involving the application of self-tanner.”

Warning! 3 of the World’s Most Dangerous Foods – Eat At Your Own Risk

These 10 foods might be considered “luxurious” but they also can come with an even steeper price tag than money- your life! So why is it that people would eat something so dangerous? It must be the thrill.

puffer fish

Fugu (AKA Puffer Fish)

Served in paper-thin slices by expert chefs, fugu combines luxury with a high-stakes gamble. The intestines, ovaries and liver of fugu (or blowfish) contain a poison called tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. The toxin is so potent that a lethal dose is smaller than the head of a pin, and a single fish has enough poison to kill 30 people. Because of the high risk, chefs must undergo two to three years of training to obtain a fugu-preparing license, and such expertise raises the price of a fugu dish to up to $200. But this hasn’t stopped the Japanese — about 40 kinds of fugu are caught in Japan, and people consume 10,000 tons of the fish every year. Continue reading Warning! 3 of the World’s Most Dangerous Foods – Eat At Your Own Risk

It’s that time of the year again: Watch out for Lyme disease

Charles Crutchfield
Dr. Charles Crutchfield

The good news is that Lyme disease can be effectively treated

The weather is finally nice again, and we are beginning to spend more time outdoors. Unfortunately, experts are saying that the presence of outdoor ticks is at record-high levels. With ticks can come tick-borne diseases, most notably Lyme disease. It is estimated that over a quarter of a million Americans will get infected with Lyme disease, annually.

Lyme disease is an illness that is transmitted by deer ticks. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium by the name of Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria can live in the blood of animals and spread by tick bites. It is very common in the United States and Europe. Continue reading It’s that time of the year again: Watch out for Lyme disease

Father’s Day Facial Special

Charcoal Purity Facial $99

Couples Charcoal Facials $159

For the dad that has everything, a no-fuss, relaxing facial just for the special men in our lives.

He will relax with our hot towel technique to enhance and enrich his treatment. His skin will be cleansed, toned, and treated with our Charcoal Purity Facial to target his skincare needs. A scalp massage as well as a hand and arm massage will top off this fabulous Father’s Day Facial for the fathers in your life.

This facial is about pore refinement and skin exfoliation. The Blueberry Enzyme, with its 1% glycolic/1% salicylic will dissolve keratinized skin and oil. Impurities and toxins are then drawn out of the skin with the Charcoal Refining Mask that will leave your skin purified and nourished. The Charcoal Refining is formulated with anti-microbial, skin detoxifying and pore cleansing ingredients that clarify and purify skin while aiding in the absorption of excess oil and impurities. The appearance of pore size is dramatically reduced and skin is left clear and healthy. This soft gray soufflé clay will certainly leave skin looking clearer and healthier, thanks to the natural plant extracts.

Blueberry Enzyme: This enzyme is a powerful antioxidant that brightens the skin with small percentages of glycolic and salicylic acids that digest dead skin cells and soften sebum. The antioxidants within the blueberries are a perfect anti-aging treatment that will create a healthy glow.

Charcoal Refining Mask: The Charcoal Refining Mask is formulated with anti-microbial, skin detoxifying and pore cleansing ingredients that clarify and purify skin while aiding in the absorption of excess oil and impurities. The appearance of pore size is dramatically reduced and skin is left clear and healthy. This soft gray soufflé clay will certainly leave skin looking clearer and healthier, thanks to the natural plant extracts.

Here are 10 great reasons why you should love and care for your liver.

Charles CrutchfieldYour liver is an amazing organ that performs dozens of different bodily functions essential for life. The liver is the fourth-largest organ of the body. On average, the skin weighs 20 pounds, the intestines weigh eight pounds, and the lungs weigh five pounds; the liver weighs about 3½ pounds and is the size of a medium football.

The liver would be rubbery to the touch (if one ever touched it!). The liver is easy not to think about because it is inside the body and we never see it.

Your liver is located on your right side, below your ribs and above your abdomen. It is a red-brown organ with two lobes. In reality, it is involved with almost every function essential to life.

It stores energy, makes critical proteins for our blood, has immune system functions, and works hand-in-hand with the intestines, gall bladder and pancreas as part of our digestive system. The primary role of the liver is to filter blood coming from the intestines after absorbing food, and to capture and break down toxins, including medications and alcohol that we ingest.

Considering all the jobs the liver has, it is easy to understand why we can become so profoundly ill if the liver stops functioning properly.

The liver is an amazing blood filter and storage organ

As a filter for blood coming from the intestines, the liver can hold up to 10 percent of the total blood in the body when it is full. In fact, the liver can filter up to 90 liters of blood per hour.

The liver can regrow itself

The liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself. In fact, you can lose up to 75 percent of your liver, and it will regenerate itself and do so in robust fashion. It can reproduce itself back to normal size in as little as 15 days.

This super-growth fact is wonderful if one needs to donate a portion of a liver for a transplant. Doctors and researchers believe the liver has this unique and amazing regenerative property because of its vital role in the overall health of a person.

The brain depends on the liver

The liver is essential for a healthy brain. The liver controls the levels of both sugar and ammonia in the blood. A poorly functioning liver causes profound changes in brain health termed hepatic (liver) encephalopathy. A sick liver produces a sick brain.

The liver needs to be checked on

Liver problems are difficult to detect, especially early on. That is why it is important to engage in regular medical check-ups to maximize your best health. Your doctor will recommend the best medical check-up schedule for you.

The liver plays a vital role in digestion

The liver produces bile. Bile is a green fluid that is secreted into the intestines to help break down and absorb fat in food. Bile also contains toxic chemicals removed by the liver that get deposited into the intestines and eventually get released as stool.

Bile gives stool its characteristic brown color. If stool is not brown, it means the liver is not functioning properly and signals serious liver problems. Most people become familiar with bitter green bile when they are sick or they have ingested too much alcohol and are forced to visit the toilet on their knees.

The ability to absorb fat from food is essential for life. The liver can produce up to a liter of bile per day.

The liver can be damaged

Damage to the liver is called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a serious condition that develops over many years, causing the liver to have extensive and irreversible scarring. With the liver fibrotic and scarred, it can’t function properly. The blood flow is restricted or even blocked, and without treatment the liver can completely fail.

There are many causes of liver cirrhosis, but the three most common causes are long-term alcohol consumption or abuse, viral infections (hepatitis), and fatty liver disease. In fatty liver disease, the liver becomes infiltrated and choked off by excessive fat deposits.

The causes of fatty liver disease are poorly understood, but most experts agree that being overweight, having chronic elevated lipids and cholesterol, diabetes and elevated blood sugar, sleep apnea, and poor thyroid function can all play a role in developing fatty liver disease.

Common signs of cirrhosis include yellowing of the skin, eyes and tongue (jaundice), breast development in men, enlarged abdomen, abdominal pain, red palms, severe intractable itching, and fatigue.

The liver protects the kidneys

We produce new blood all the time the old blood is broken down, and one of the products is something called bilirubin. Bilirubin is extremely toxic and can damage the kidneys. The liver processes the bilirubin to a form that is not damaging to the kidneys. This liver-processed bilirubin gives urine its characteristic yellow color.

The liver is a master storehouse

The liver stores energy (sugar or glucose as glycogen), iron, minerals and vitamins for body use.

The liver is a master factory

The liver also produces special proteins necessary for blood clotting. It also produces cholesterol, needed to make cell walls and essential hormones.

The liver makes medicines work

Most of the medicines we take need to be processed and activated by the liver in order to work properly.

Your liver is a miraculous organ. The importance of the liver is illustrated by the fact that all vertebrate animals (animals that have a spinal cord) have a liver, and every liver is similar in structure and function.

The liver is responsible for multiple essential functions, including the detoxification of harmful substances, purification of the blood, and the production of life-sustaining nutrients. In fact, the liver performs over 500 different functions and is a key for good health and life.

To keep your liver healthy, minimize alcohol intake and make sure to maintain a regular medical check-up schedule with your doctor.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.