What is Autism?

What is Autism?

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological disorder characterized by challenges with communication and social skills as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of behavior or interests.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is considered “pervasive” because it affects many aspects of an individual’s life. It is considered a “developmental disorder” because it occurs very early in life (often prior to the age of 3) and may be apparent from early infancy or may begin to manifest after a period of apparently typical development. Experts estimate that autism is diagnosed in 1 out of every 36 children in the United States and is four times more common in boys than girls. Autism affects 1 in every 27 boys and 1 in 116 girls and occurs regardless of race, religion, income level, or other societal factors.

Autism is a life-long disorder that exists along a continuum of functioning levels – from those who have mild symptoms and can function independently – to those with severe delays in all areas of development who require continuous supervision. Regardless of the nature of their delays, many individuals with ASD can make substantial gains with appropriate treatment.

What are common signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

The first signs of ASD usually appear before age 3.

The earliest signs typically include:

  • Poor eye contact
  • Lack of pointing
  • Difficulty in the use and understanding of language
  • Unusual play or lack of play

Other common signs include:

  • Poor social skills
  • Over- or under-sensitivity to sound, sight, taste, touch or smell
  • Repetitive movements (hand flapping, body rocking)
  • Difficulty with changes in routine or surroundings
  • Challenging behaviors such as aggression, self-injury or severe withdrawal
  • Echolalia (repeats words instead of responding)
  • Not responding when called by name or appearing to be deaf

How is ASD diagnosed?

There is no medical test to diagnose autism.

In New York State, ASD can only be diagnosed by a licensed psychologist or physician. A diagnosis is made on the presence or absence of certain observable behaviors. Qualified professionals should perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine the presence of symptoms and the impact that these symptoms have on an individual’s life.

There are many empirically-validated diagnostic instruments that a professional may use to make a diagnosis. Multiple symptoms must be found in all three core areas- socialization, communication, and repetitive/restrictive behaviors and must have a substantial impact on an individual’s daily life.

What causes ASD?

No one really knows what causes autism but a variety of theories exist.

A substantial amount of research is underway to determine the biological causes of autism, but a single cause has not been identified. Some cases of autism have been found to have a genetic component, although a single gene is not responsible for the disorder. ASD occurs with increased frequency in identical twins. Many children with ASD also have seizure disorders.

What are effective early interventions for autism?

Although there is no cure for autism, children can make substantial gains with early intensive intervention.

The most effective approaches require large amounts of time and effort from therapists, teachers, and parents. Interventions that have been found most effective for autism are those based on principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). Effective ABA programs begin early in life, target all areas of development, and are delivered intensively (between 25 to 40 hours per week). The focus of treatment involves building skills in all areas of development in order help a child learn, play, interact with others and become as independent as possible. Research indicates that children with a normal IQ, who receive early intensive behavioral treatment, and develop speech before age 5 tend to have the best prognosis.

While there are no medications that can cure autism spectrum disorders, they can help manage some of the associated symptoms including attention, anxiety, and aggression.

Where can I get more information online?