Autism is a lifelong, pervasive developmental disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. It is actually not one disorder, but a group of disorders, known as the autism spectrum, that affect a child’s social interaction, communication, and behavior. Children with autism also may exhibit hypo- or hyper-sensitivity to sensory stimuli and/or problems with fine and gross motor skills.
The autism spectrum is a group of five disorders:
- Autistic Disorder
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
- Rett’s Disorder
- Asperger’s Disorder
Deficits in social interaction may include:
- Poor eye contact
- Difficulty using and recognizing facial expressions, gestures, nonverbal cues
- Difficulty establishing or maintaining peer relationships
- Lack of spontaneous sharing of enjoyment or interest with another person
- Preference to be alone
Deficits in communication may include:
Limited, delayed, or absent speech
Problems with personal pronouns
Stereotypic/repetitive use of language (e.g. echolalia) or idiosyncratic language
Poor conversational skills
Literal interpretation of language
Lack of imaginative or imitative play
Behavioral characteristics range widely and may include:
- persistent preoccupation with or attachment to unusual objects or topics of interest
- preoccupation with parts of objects
- repetitive motor movements, such as body rocking, spinning, hand flapping or finger flicking
- inflexible adherence to routines or rituals
- difficulties with transition
- hyperactivity and/or impulsivity
- aggression, self-injury, and/or tantrums
No. There is no was to tell by a person’s physical appearance that he or she may have an autism spectrum disorder.
Yes. With the exception of Rett’s disorder, which is sometimes associated with premature death, life expectancy for individuals with autism spectrum disorder is normal.
The cause of autism is not currently known. Genetic factors have been identified as playing a role, but cannot account for all cases. Some environmental factors likely contribute as well. Because autism is diagnosed clinically, and not through a medical test, it is likely that multiple causes exist. For more information on current research, click here.
Autism is approximately four times more common in boys than in girls. There are no known differences in prevalence between racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups.
No one knows for sure. Though it's understandable to expect that a disorder as common as autism would have a known cause, in many ways it's still quite mysterious. Recent studies suggest a strong genetic basis for autism -- up to 20 sets of genes may play a part in its development. Genetics alone, however, can't account for all the cases, and so scientists are also looking into possible environmental origins, as well as other triggers.
Though the debate over the role that vaccines play in causing autism grows more heated every day, researchers have still not found a definitive link between the two. According to organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, there's just not enough evidence to support the contention that vaccines – specifically thimerosal-containing vaccines – cause children to develop autism. One study published in the medical journal Lancet faulting the measles-mumps-rubella (
Unfortunately, experts have been unable thus far to come up with a cure for autism. Many treatments and therapies have surfaced since the disorder has grown more visible in the mainstream press, but reputable doctors have yet to agree on any that will reverse the diagnosis. But there's hope: Scientists are hard at work every day finding a solution for this growing problem. While advocacy groups have said for years that lack of funding for research is to blame for the dearth of definitive answers, a bill known as the Combating Autism Act, which would funnel millions of dollars to developing a cure, was passed through Congress and signed by the President ensuring that $162 million has been appropriated to fund autism research, services and treatment. Until such cure is discovered, parents have been relying on early intervention programs such as applied behavior analysis, or ABA, and play therapy to mitigate the behaviors associated with autism. For some, these treatments have proven to be very successful, helping kids on the spectrum lead a full and active life.
No two children with autism are alike, but there are some signs that many of them share and that experts agree may be as recognizable as early as the toddler years, or even sooner. Children on the spectrum generally have difficulty relating to others; they may hardly speak, and if they do, they may not communicate in ways that other people can easily understand (they may screech loudly when they're upset, for example, instead of crying). They don't usually sustain eye contact – it's too intense -- and have trouble reading social cues. They're also prone to repetitive behaviors, flapping their hands constantly or uttering the same phrase over and over again. They may also be more sensitive than typically developing children, or dramatically less so, to sights, sounds and touch.
Don't wait--talk to your doctor about getting child screened for autism. New research shows that children as young as one may exhibit signs of autism, so recognizing early signs and knowing developmental milestones is important. Early intervention is key.
You can start by making sure he has a reputable healthcare team by his side. That means finding doctors, therapists, psychologists and teachers who understand and have experience with autism and can respond to his shifting needs appropriately. Ask your child's pediatrician to recommend a developmental pediatrician with whom you can consult about the next step. She, in turn, can guide you toward various intervention programs and suggest complementary therapies. It also helps to plug into an already existing network of parents facing the same challenges as you.
First, be kind to yourself. It's not easy to recover from the shock of learning your child has a developmental disorder that has no known cause or cure. Accept any and all feelings the diagnosis may elicit, and try not to blame yourself: It would've been impossible for you to figure out a way to shield your child from autism completely. The next step is to arm yourself with all the facts about the disorder. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more capable you'll feel about navigating the daunting autism gauntlet. That said, it's also important to give yourself a “break” from autism when it becomes too overwhelming. And if you find that the diagnosis has been so crippling that you've been unable to get past it, consider talking to a counselor or therapist. You can't — and aren't expected to — weather this storm alone.
Most likely yes. Much depends on where your child falls on the spectrum, but with your support, as well as that of doctors, therapists and teachers, your child should be able to attend school. In fact, it's his right: According to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990, which mentions autistic children specifically, your child deserves access to a “free and appropriate” education funded by the government, whether it be in a mainstream or special education classroom.
Parents can help their autistic child in everyway possible. Providing emotional and social support to the autistic children is a very crucial element in the care. You can also read up on materials available to know more about your child's condition. You can communicate with specialists and therapists and sit with them to decide on the best course of procedure to follow that will bring maximum benefit to the child. Many a times parents of autistic children have been able to not only help their own children adjust with autism, they have successfully build up support groups with other parents to have a forum for discussing related problems.
Medication to a certain extent will be able to help the symptoms of the autistic child in controlling behavior and other expressions of the disorder and not the cause. With medication, the parents may find it easier to handle their autistic children.