What is Autism?

Lynette - posted on 08/30/2010 ( 4 moms have responded )






Autism is a neuro developmental disorder of brain function and individuals with autism and autism spectrum range from mild to severely incapacitated characterized by three major types of symptoms: impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual or severely limited activities and interests.No two individuals with autism are the same or have exactly the same symptoms or degree of symptoms.Sometimes this is difficult to accept a diagnosis of Autism in their child but with the help of family,therapy and other autism services most families can come to the understanding and accept that Autism is not a bad word and that every child including those of the most severely disabled have a purpose in life,they are special and deserve compassion and equal opportunity.As parents we are our childrens best advocate to speak on their behalf when they can not verbalize it ourself.Also as a community of parents an caregivers of autism we need to stick together an support each other no matter what the belief system instead of tear down others for believing what they do.Put the support in support group.

So the next time you see a child in the department store having a tantrum,kicking up a ruckus do not be so quick to frown at the mother as if it is all their fault and remember that the child may not be misbehaving but rather having a sensory overload that for some kids on the spectrum can be painful to experience or cause frustration because they are unable to communicate what they feel and so they scream or cry because they can't verbalize their feelings.


Autism is a complex developmental disability with symptoms that typically appear during the first three years of childhood and continue throughout life. It is the most severe disorder within a group of developmental disorders called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) that cover a wide range of behaviors and symptoms, all related to a lesser or greater extent to impaired social and communication skills.

In its most severe form, autism may include extreme self-injurious, repetitive, highly unusual, and aggressive behaviors.


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, PDDs were estimated to occur in two to six per 1,000 births in 2003 with autism being the most common PDD, affecting an estimated one in 250 births. As of 2004, as many as 1.5 million Americans are were believed to have some form of autism. The disorder is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and is not associated with any specific racial or ethnic background. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels also do not affect the chance of the disorder's occurrence.

The Autism Society of America (ASA) warns that autism is on the rise. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, the ASA estimates that the disorder is growing at a rate of 10 to 17 percent per year, which could lead to 4 million Americans being affected by autism between 2005 and 2015.

Causes and Symptoms

While understanding of autism grew tremendously since it was first described by Leo Kanner in 1943, no known single cause for autism as of 2004 was yet identified, although research has shown that it results from specific abnormalities in brain structure or function. For example, brain scans show that the shape and structure of the brain in autistic children are different from those of non-autistic children. Researchers investigated several theories and established a firm link between heredity, genetics, and medical problems, while also establishing that no known psychological factors in the development of the child have been shown to cause autism.

The genetic link is supported by observations showing that, in many families, there seems to be a pattern of autism or ASDs. While no one gene was identified as causing autism as of 2004, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that autistic children may have inherited.

Autism has also been shown to occur more frequently among individuals who have certain medical> conditions, including>fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, congenital rubella syndrome, and untreated phenylketonuria.

Toxins and pollution in the environment have also been associated with autism. The Center for the Study of Autism and other agencies documented a high prevalence of autism in certain communities, for example, in the small town of Leomenster, Massachusetts, and in Brick Township, New Jersey, and attempted to uncover the reason.

The symptoms of autism occur in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe and are caused by physical disorders of the brain. According to the ASA, they may include any combination of the following in varying degrees of severity:

* insistence on sameness; resistance to change

* difficulty in expressing needs; using gestures or pointing instead of words

* repeating words or sentences instead of using normal, responsive language (echolalia)

* laughing, crying, showing distress for reasons not apparent to others

* aloof behavior, seeking solitude

* tantrums

* refusal to cuddle or be cuddled

* little or no eye contact

* unresponsiveness to normal teaching methods

* sustained odd play

* inappropriate attachments to objects

* apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain

* no fear of danger

* uneven gross/fine motor skills

* not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range

When to Call the Doctor

The characteristic behaviors of autism may or may not be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months) but usually become obvious during early childhood (two to six years).

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists the five following behaviors as signals that medical evaluation is needed:

* does not babble or coo by 12 months

* does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months

* does not say single words by 16 months

* does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months

* loss of any language or social skills at any age

The presence of any of these five behaviors does not mean that a child has autism, but because the characteristics of the disorder vary so much, a child should be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team that may include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant, or other professionals knowledgeable about autism.


There are no medical tests for diagnosing autism. An accurate diagnosis must be based on observation of the individual's communication, behavior, and developmental level. A diagnosis of autistic disorder is usually made when an individual displays six or more of 12 symptoms listed across three major areas: social interaction, communication, and behavior. Several screening procedures have been developed for use in diagnosing autism, among which are the following:

* Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). CARS is based on observed behavior. Using a 15-point scale, professionals evaluate a child's relationship to people, body use, adaptation to change, listening response, and verbal communication.

* Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT). CHAT is used to screen for autism at 18 months of age. The screening tool uses a short questionnaire with two sections, one prepared by the parents, the other by the child's family doctor or pediatrician.

* Autism Screening Questionnaire (ASQ). The ASQ is a 40-item screening scale used with children four and older to help evaluate communication skills and social functioning.

* Screening Test for Autism in Two-Year Olds. This test uses direct observations to study behavioral features in children under two. It is focused on three skills areas, play, motor imitation, and joint attention, that are associated with autism.


There is as of 2004 no cure for autism, but appropriate treatment may promote relatively normal development and lower the incidence of undesirable behaviors. Doctors also may prescribe a variety of drugs to reduce the symptoms of autism, such as antidepressants and tranquilizers. Educational/behavioral therapies emphasize highly structured and often intensive skill-oriented training, and they are comparatively the most effective treatments available.

The importance of early treatment is well established among professionals. Researchers have proposed that there is a critical period during which the young, developing brain is highly modifiable. For some children with autism, the repeated, active interaction provided by intensive educational/behavioral therapy may modify their neural circuitry before it goes too much awry, correcting it before autism becomes permanent.

A wide spectrum of educational/behavioral therapies were developed during the last decades of the twentieth century under the umbrella of applied behavior analysis (ABA), the science of human behavior. ABA is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree. ABA methods treat autism with particular strategies: using reinforcement procedures to increase on-task behavior and social interactions; teaching new skills (functional life skills, communication skills, or social skills); maintaining desirable behaviors (teaching self-control and self-monitoring procedures to maintain social skills); transferring behavior from one situation or response to another (from completing assignments in the resource room to performing as well in the mainstream classroom); reducing interfering behaviors (e.g., self-injury).

Specific educational/behavioral therapy programs for the treatment of autism include, for example, the following:

* The Miller Method. Developed at the Language and Cognitive Development Center (LCDC) in Boston, MA. The LCDC is a Massachusetts Chapter 766-approved day school, serving students with autism or PDD ages three to 14. The LCDC specializes in a particular approach to teaching children with autism. The Miller Method extensively uses adaptive equipment, including platforms (to elevate the child so as to help increase eye contact), large swinging balls (to expand the child's reality system) and Swiss cheese boards (to teach motor planning, as well as to increase the child's understanding of his or her relation to environment and space).

* Discrete Trial Training (DTT). DTT methodology has been likened to controlling the river of information and interaction that typically confronts the child with autism such that it is presented one drop at a time. This control manages learning opportunities so that skills are more easily mastered by the child. Learning occurs in small steps. Simple skills must be mastered before new learning opportunities are presented, in which the child then builds upon the mastered skill toward a more complex one.

* Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH). TEACCH is a statewide program in North Carolina that tries to respond to the needs of autistic people by using the best available approaches and methods. The TEACCH approach includes a focus on the person with autism and development of a program around this person's skills, interests, and needs. The major priorities include centering on the individual, understanding autism, adopting appropriate adaptations, and a broadly based intervention strategy building on existing skills and interests.

Alternative Treatment

Some alternative treatments have been proposed for autism. They include:

* The Son-Rise program. The Son-Rise program was created by Barry and Samahria Lyte Kaufman in the 1970s, as a means to teach their own son, who was diagnosed with autism and mental retardation. The program ranges from one week to six months and is designed to teach parents, professionals, and support staff of children with a wide range of disabilities how to implement home-based programs based upon the Kaufmans' theories of learning. There have been no studies of the Son-Rise Program's effectiveness, and the method has not been subjected to scientific evaluation.

* Megavitamin therapy. Some studies have shown that vitamin B6 improves eye contact and speech and lessens tantrum behavior. Vitamin B6 causes fewer side effects than other medications and is considered safe when used in appropriate doses. However, not many health practitioners advocate its use in the treatment of autism, citing that the studies showing its benefit were flawed.

Nutritional Concerns

Dimethylglycine (DMG) is a compound available in many health food stores, that is legally classified as a food, not a vitamin or drug. Some researchers claim that it improves speech in children with autism. Those who respond to this treatment usually do so within a week. Many doctors, however, do not feel that the studies are adequate to promote DMG in the diet of autistic individuals.


People with autism have normal life expectancies. Symptoms in many children improve with treatment, or as the children grow up, some eventually are able to lead normal or near-normal lives. Adolescence can worsen behavior problems in some children, and treatment should be adjusted for the child's changing needs. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), about one third of children with ASDs eventually develop epilepsy. The risk is highest in children with severe cognitive impairment and motor deficits.


Since the cause of the brain anomalies associated with autism is not known, prevention is not possible.

Parental Concerns

Following a diagnosis of autism, parents need to work with health and education professionals for the child's benefit. Specifically, they need to take the following steps:

* Be informed. Parents should learn as much as they can about autism so that they can be involved in determining care.

* Be prepared. Parents should prepare for meetings with doctors, therapists, and school personnel. They should ask questions and communicate their concerns regarding treatment issues and the impact of the diagnosis on the family.

* Be organized. Many parents find it useful to keep a notebook detailing their child's diagnosis, treatment, and the meetings they have with professionals.

* Communicate effectively. Open communication is very important. If parents disagree with a professional's recommendation, for example, they should communicate specifically why they disagree.

See also Fragile X syndrome; Pervasive developmental disorders; Phenylketonuria.


View replies by

Monica - posted on 09/03/2012




Hello I am a Board certified behavior therapist and clinical director of an amazing company crystal minds new beginning. Crystal Minds New Beginning uses an Integrational approach to therapy. It combines fragments and pieces of Occupational therapy, speech therapy, art therapy, physical therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). We also use VB-MAPP, developed by B.F.Skinner, which is a verbal approach to behavior analysis. All of our programs have a verbal component to it whether it is ASL (sign language training), PECS (Picture communication exchange System) and other forms of verbal behaviors, including further development of Tacts, Mands and intra-verbals. We also understand that apart from speech and behavior, academic enhancements help individuals develop healthy self-esteems and prepare them for the later years of their lives therefore we also offer academic enhancements and tutoring programs to get your child on track!

For any questions please visit www.cmnbtherapy.com or email us at info@cmnbtherapy.com

Bridgette - posted on 10/31/2011




I know some need those lables but how does saying my sons severe autism severely affects his ability to learn get him taught anything? That is an excuse for our county to use him as an example for the other more severely handicapped children in his class.
My problem is the fact that my child gets no help! Never has. He has a disability i am Not blind to that but he Needs an education. I know he can achieve that much.
Others with his disabilities have gotten a diploma even -in southern California. That kind of verbage has gotten my son thrown in the trash can as far as his education goes. Doesnt he at least deserve the dignity of them at least trying to teach him?

Lynette - posted on 03/16/2011




To Bridgette; i never singled out any one child so how you recieve this informationor verbage as you call it is your detail.However as a mother of a child with Autism I can see how you would be hyper sensitive to anything you may percieve as personal ,so as a favor to you I won't remove the word incapacitated but I will edit the sentence and add to it this one time . However there are children or adults for that matter who have Autism on a "severe" level and there are people with Autism who incpacitated by it because it is so severe.It isn't implied to insult anyone.That being said this information comes from specialists in the field of developmental disabilities.
My son who was non verbal and severely autistic since therapy and alot of work on our end with him has brought him down to a moderate level or in the midlle of the spectrum.If you look up Naturally Autistic and go to their website you will see my friend Leo's son who is severely autistic. He as a young man yet dependant on his parents.I acknowledge that we as parents have to be advocates for our children however as a parent I have learned to pick carefully what i get upset about and concentrate on more serious issues such as his right to therapy so he can become independant an learn positive behavoural skills and coping skills at a early age and seeing his needs are met.I find it more productive when having a support group to support each other even if we have different belief systems.We cannot afford to waste energy attacking and tearing down each other.I see it happen in so many other group pages on FB which forced me to want to leave an start my own group because of all the infighting and foolishness people chose to bicker about .I didn't want to be associated with any community that condoned nasty behaviour towards each other as that sort of behaviour will not be tolerated here in this forum.

Bridgette - posted on 03/15/2011




I Object to "severely incapacitating" or any other verbage that implies my child is retarded!

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