chapter  8
19 Pages

Nystagmus and Behavioral Effects of Vestibular Stimulation in Autistic Children: David L. Clark, Regina B. Gunsett, and Howard A. I. Newman

Since the first description of autistic children by Kanner (1943), the peculiar motor activity and unusual behavior patterns seen in autistic children have been frequently described by professionals working with these children. Kanner noted the bizarre rocking, spinning, and stereotypic motor patterns of these children. Early research refers to autism as childhood schizophrenia (Bender, 1947, 1956; Bender & Faretra, 1972; Fish & Dixon, 1978). Although there is much dispute regarding the relationship between schizophrenia and autism, they tend to differ in the presented behaviors, time of onset, and prognosis (Rutter, 1968; Koven, 1971). Syndrome criteria for autism include onset before 24 months, severe language and social impairment, and insistence on sameness of environment (Rutter, 1968; Koven, 1971). The etiology of autistic behavior remains unknown. Possible causes include neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, and metabolic disorders. Ornitz (1970) has proposed that improper functional levels of arousal in the reticular activating system might be a possible source of central nervous system (CNS) damage in these children. Particularly suspect is the vestibular system. It is stimulated during rocking and spinning behavior, and it has projections into nuclei of the reticular formation.