What is autism?
Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder of development. Because persons with autism exhibit different symptoms or behaviors, ranging from mild to serious, autism is a “spectrum” disorder, or a group of disorders with a range of similar features.
Children with autism have difficulty communicating and interacting with others. Many individuals with autism seem to retreat into isolation, or fixate on a word, an object, or an activity.
Sometimes symptoms are seen in infancy, while other children develop normally for a year or more before they begin to slip into their own private world. How common is autism?
Autism is a national crisis. It is the fastest growing disability in the United States. A child is diagnosed with autism every 21 minutes and it now affects one in every 166 children.
More than a disorder, autism is a national crisis affecting at least one million Americans and costing the country more than $90 billion annual. What are common signs of autism?
Children affected by autism do not always experience the same symptoms. The symptoms depend on the severity of the disorder. The impact or manifestation of these behaviors can range from mild to disabling. Early signs of autism are:
Loss or lack of speech around 18 months of age.
Little or no eye contact.
Loss or lack of gestures, such as pointing or waving.
Repetitive speech or actions.
Unusual reactions to the way things look, feel, smell, taste or sound.
How do I know if my child has autism?
A qualified professional, such as a developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist, makes an autism diagnosis.
A professional may use a screening questionnaire to gather observations from the child’s parents. If the screening indicates the possibility of autism, a more comprehensive evaluation is often conducted by a medical team that includes a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist and other specialists.
How is autism treated?
Early Intervention: programs include educational programs and behavior training programs that emphasize developing language and social skills.
What causes autism?
At this time, scientists do not know exactly what causes autism. Because no two people with autism are alike, autism is likely to be the result of many causes.
A number of research studies indicate a genetic link as the underlying cause. Researchers are also examining possible neurological, infectious, metabolic, environmental and immunologic factors.
1) Autistic People Are All Alike
Myth: If I’ve met an autistic person (or seen the movie Rain Man), I have a good idea of what all autistic people are like.
Fact: Autistic people are as different from one another as they could be. The only elements that ALL autistic people seem to have in common are unusual difficulty with social communication.
2) Autistic People Don't Have Feelings
Myth: Autistic people cannot feel or express love or empathy.
Fact: Many -- in fact, most -- autistic people are extremely capable of feeling and expressing love, though sometimes in idiosyncratic ways! What's more, many autistic people are far more empathetic than the average person, though they may express their empathy in unusual ways.
3) Autistic People Don't Build Relationships
Myth: Autistic people cannot build solid relationships with others.
Fact: While it’s unlikely that an autistic child will be a cheerleader, it is very likely that they will have solid relationships with, at the very least, their closest family members. And many autistic people do build strong friendships through shared passionate interests. There are also plenty of autistic people who marry and have satisfying romantic relationships.
4) Autistic People Are a Danger to Society
Myth: Autistic people are dangerous.
Fact: Recent news reports of an individual with Asperger Syndrome committing violent acts have led to fears about violence and autism. While there are many autistic individuals who exhibit violent behaviors, those behaviors are almost always caused by frustration, physical and/or sensory overload, and similar issues. It’s very rare for an autistic person to act violently out of malice.
5) All Autistic People Are Savants
Myth: Autistic people have amazing “savant” abilities, such as extraordinary math skills or musical skills.
Fact: It is true that a relatively few autistic people are “savants.” These individuals have what are called “splinter skills” which relate only to one or two areas of extraordinary ability. By far the majority of autistic people, though, have ordinary or even less-than-ordinary skill sets.
6) Autistic People Have No Language Skills
Myth: Most autistic people are non-verbal or close to non-verbal.
Fact: Individuals with a classic autism diagnosis are sometimes non-verbal or nearly non-verbal. But the autism spectrum also includes extremely verbal individuals with very high reading skills. Diagnoses at the higher end of the spectrum are increasing much faster than diagnoses at the lower end of the spectrum.
7) Autistic People Can't Do Much of Anything
Myth: I shouldn’t expect much of an autistic person.
Fact: This is one myth that, in my opinion, truly injures our children. Autistic individuals can achieve great things -- but only if they're supported by people who believe in their potential. Autistic people are often the creative innovators in our midst. They see the world through a different lens -- and when their perspective is respected, they can change the world.