What Is Autism?
An Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurological conditions marked by communication disorders, social impairments, and repetitive behaviors by the time a child is three years old. Those who have an autism spectrum disorders handle information in the brain differently than other people.
Autism Spectrum Disorders represent a continuum of disorders ranging from mild to very severe. While those with ASDs share similar problems, there are many differences in onset, severity and nature of symptoms.
ASDs occur across all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. ASDs are four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls.
What Causes Autism?
While scientists have not pinpointed an exact cause for autism, it's likely that environmental and genetics work together to cause autistic spectrum disorders. A number of genes are associated with autistic spectrum disorders, as are certain brain irregularities
Some environmental stresses have been shown to increase a child's risk of developing autism. The strongest evidence of environmental risk factors include events before and during the birth. These include, but are not limited to, parental age at time of birth (both parents), maternal sickness during pregnancy, and difficulties during the pregnancy with periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby's brain. It should be noted that these risk factors do not cause autism by themselves, but rather in combination with genetic risk factors they moderately increase the risk.
Children who have a first-degree relative with an ASD are at a higher risk for developing an ASD themselves.
However, it has been disproved that parental techniques in child rearing cause ASD.
It also has been disproved that autism is caused by vaccines.
Types of Autistic Spectrum Disorders:
Autistic Disorder - (also known as "classic" autism) AD is the most severe form of autism and people with autistic disorder have unusual interests and behaviors, intellectual disabilities, significant language impairment, and severe social and communication problems.
Asperger Syndrome- a milder form of autistic disorder. People with Asperger Syndrome may have social challenges, unusual interests and behaviors, but generally do not have issues with language or intellectual disabilities.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) (also known as "atypical autism")- these are people who meet some but not all of the diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger Syndrome. People with PDD-NOS have milder and fewer symptoms.
Rett Syndrome - is an extremely rare disorder primarily found in girls, as it is linked to the X chromosome. Children with Rett syndrome have problems with physical development. They typically lose motor skills such as the use of their hands or feet, including walking. Poor coordination is common.
Childhood Disintegration Disorder - a disorder in which development begins at a normal pace, both physically and mentally. Roughly between the ages of 2 and 10 the child begins to lose previously developed skills. The child may lose social and language skills among other bodily functions such as bowel or bladder control.
What Are Common Signs and Symptoms of Autism?
Signs of autism spectrum disorders usually begin before age three and last a person's lifetime - although the severity of symptoms may diminish over time.
It's important to note that while many of these behaviors occur in children with autism, autism is a SPECTRUM disorder, meaning that the severity of the symptoms will vary from child to child.
Some infants display symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, while other children may not exhibit signs ot autism until 24 months old. The hallmark of autism is impaired social interaction with adults, parents, and other children.
Other symptoms of autism may include:
- A baby with autism may focus on one thing - excluding all others - for an extended period of time.
- Babies with an autistic spectrum disorder may be unresponsive to people.
- Children with autism may avoid eye and physical contact with people.
- Children with autism may have difficulty recognizing social queues (tone of voice, expressions)
- Children with autism may not understand or exhibit empathy.
- Children with autism often engage in repetitive movements - rocking, twirling, biting or headbanging.
- Autistic children may speak later than other children.
- Autistic children may not play appropriately with other children.
What Other Conditions Occur With Autism?
There are a number of diseases and conditions associated with autism and autism spectrum disorders. Click on the name of the disorder to learn more about it.
Fragile X Syndrome - a genetic disorder caused by changes in the FMR1 gene. The FMR1 gene creates a protein vital for brain development. A defect in the gene causes the body to produce too little of the protein or - in some cases - none at all. This can cause developmental problems.
Tourette's Syndrome - a tic disorder in which a person has multiple motor tics, including at least one vocal tic. This disorder is diagnosed in childhood, but may appear at any point, and is not related to any medication or substance.
Tuberous Sclerosis - a genetic disorder that causes noncancerous (also known as benign) tumors to grow in various parts of the body. Tuberous sclerosis is part of a group of diseases called "neurocutaneous syndromes," which means that both the skin and central nervous system are affected.
Epilepsy - episodes of altered brain function that cause motor, cognitive, and sensory changes thought to result from changes in excitability in neurons.
ADHD - is a disorder characterized by excessive restlessness, inattention, distraction, and an impulsive nature that interferes with the person's daily life, and his or her ability to function in everyday activities
Learning Disabilities- refers to difficulties in learning and using skills due to disturbances in neurological functioning. Typically, the most affected skill areas include reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and math
Is There Treatment for Autism?
Currently, there is no cure for autism.
It's been shown though, that early interaction programs can greatly improve the development of a child with an ASD. These programs help children from birth to age three and are aimed at teaching the child to walk, talk, and interact with other people. It is vital to speak with your doctor as soon as you suspect an ASD so that therapy can begin as soon as possible.
A treatment plan should be individualized for each child.
Educational Interventions: Trained therapists use structured and skills-oriented sessions to help autistic children develop social skills and language abilities.
Family Therapy: parents and siblings of children with autism may benefit from counseling to cope with the challenges of living with someone with an autistic spectrum disorder.
Medications may be used to treat specific Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, seizures, depression or anxiety.
There are numerous other more controversial therapies that are largely unsupported by science. Parents should use the utmost caution before beginning such treatments.
If You're Concerned That Your Child Has Autism:
Research has proven that early intervention services can greatly improve development. If you think your child may have an ASD, contact your pediatrician for a thorough evaluation. You can request a referral for a specialist for an in-depth evaluation if you remain concerned.
Call your state's early childhood intervention system for a free evaluation to see if your child qualifies for services. You don't need a referral to contact early intervention.
If your child is under three, call National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) at 1-800-695-0285.
If your child is three or older, contact your local public school system even if your child isn't school-aged. They're well-equipped to handle it.
If you're unsure who to contact, call National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) at 1-800-695-0285.
Talk About Curing Autism Cards - business cards that can be passed out to people staring at your autistic child. On the front the cards say,
My Child's Behavior May Be Disturbing To You.
My Child Is Not Spoiled or Misbehaving.
MY CHILD HAS AUTISM
On the Back it gives facts about autism.
Aspies for Freedom A group that takes the view that autism and Asperger Syndrome are not negative, and not always a disability. Focuses on embracing neurodiversity.
The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome by Tony Attwood. A heavy read, almost like a textbook.
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger'sby John Elder Robison. Written by a man who was not diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome until he was an adult. It's a great first-person account.
The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome: Completely Revised and Updated: Advice, Support, Insight, and Inspiration by Patricia Romanowski Bashe and Barbara L. Kirby. This book was written by two mothers of children with Asperger Syndrome. It compiles information they've gathered from studies, personal experience, and the experiences of the many, many parents who come to the website they founded -- one of the first resources for parents of children with AS.
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Revised Edition and The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Kranowitz.