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Information About Autism

written by: Jennifer Fidalgo • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 2/28/2011

Find crucial information about autism including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Autism is a disability that negatively affects an individual's ability to communicate. Learn more about the disorder here.

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    What is Autism and Who is Affected?

    Autism is generally diagnoses in childhood, but not always, and can vary in the severity of the disorder. Generally, those diagnosed are negatively impaired in social interactions and may have trouble talking or responding to others. They may also engage in self stimulating behaviors and fixate on certain objects. Sometimes a child's cognition is impaired and children need more aid and services in school and social settings.

    Autism has become the most commonly diagnosed disorder in early childhood, making it important for parents, teachers, medical professionals and social workers to learn as much information about it as possible. While it can be diagnosed in children in any culture and of any sex, autism primarily affects certain groups of individuals more than others. The Center for Disease Control claims that autism affects one in 150 million children in the U.S. but that boys are significantly more likely to receive a diagnosis in the autism spectrum. In fact, autism is four more times likely to occur in boys than girls. The disorder is also more commonly diagnosed in Caucasian children than African American, Latino or Asian children.

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    How is Autism Diagnosed?

    An early diagnosis can help the child make vast improvements in learning and social communication. For this reason, it is critical to know the signs and get early treatment if you suspect your child may have the disorder. Standardized tests can be one method used to help determine if a child has autism. A clinical visit with a specialist is also arranged for further observation and conclusions.

    A diagnosis can be made after a child has displayed a certain number of autistic traits according to the Diagnostic and Standard Manual of Mental Disorders. Some of the tests used to further evaluate these children include the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, the checklist for Autism in Toddlers, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale and the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale.

    Sometimes the diagnosis of autism may include genetic testing. In these cases, there may be a history of autism in a family or there are brain malformations and abnormally small head circumferences.

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    What Are the Causes of Autism?

    While there are many factors that may cause a child to fall within the autism spectrum of disorders, the CDC reports that genes are a major factor in contributing to the increase of the disorder. They also cite that when a child has medical conditions such as Fragile X, Down Syndrome, Tubercous Sclerosis or other chromosomal abnormalities, they are 10% more likely to be diagnosed with autism. Harmful drugs taken by a mother during pregnancy can also cause an increase in autism rates. This can be true of not only illegal drugs, but also many prescription drugs.

    Important Austim Information:

    Autism is not caused by a lack of discipline in the home. Often there are signs present very early on in a toddler's development before any parenting could have an effect.

    A 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine found that thimerosal, which is found in childhood vaccines, does not cause autism. However, there are still some parents of autistic children who believe that the vaccine has had a direct effect on their child showing signs of autism.

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    Treatment

    There is no known cause for autism. However, autistic children respond well to early intervention services. These services can be provided to children under the age of three. Therapies are arranged so that the child learns to walk, talk and play. Even if treatment is not given at an early age, children will still have better outcomes with specific interventions that are targeted to their needs. Information about autism from the CDC shows that children with developmental disorders may show improvements when there are communication and behavioral approaches, and even nutritional changes like eliminating Gluten and Casein. In addition, medications for anti-depression or OCD, and even alternative therapies such as eliminating the body of metals, can help children with autism improve.

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    Resources

    The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm

    The National Institute of Health http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/asd.cfm

    The CDC http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5810a1.htm