What Autism Is. What Autism Is Not.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. While Autism awareness has increased in recent years, there are still some misconceptions and unanswered questions in many parent’s minds. I hope that this post will help summarize some of our current knowledge on the topic!

Autism is prevalent. On average, research has shown that Autism affects 1 in 110 children, and 1 in 70 boys in the United States.

Autism is a developmental, neurological disability. Current research tells us that genes, some metabolic, neurological, and chromosomal disorders, and exposure to certain chemicals before birth are likely risk factors for developing Autism.

Autism is not caused by parenting or vaccines. While “frigid” parenting and the Measles Mumps and Rubella Vaccine were once suspected to cause Autism, research strongly suggests that Autism is developed before birth.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. People on the Autism Spectrum have disabilities that range from mild to profound and the spectrum encompass diagnoses such as Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Aspergers Syndrome.

Autism is not a “one size fits all” diagnosis or prognosis. There is no definitive medical test for Autism. Diagnoses are currently based on standardized and criterion-based tests administered through interactions, observations, and parent interview.

Autism is detectable early on. A reliable diagnosis can be made when children are 2 years old, and often children can be identified as young as 18 months old. Since 2007 the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended screening all children for Autism between ages 18 months and 2 years. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) is one screening tool that can identify toddlers who may be at risk for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Here are red flags of Autism Spectrum Disorders from www.firstsigns.org:

Impairment in Social Interaction:

  • Lack of appropriate eye gaze
  • Lack of warm, joyful expressions
  • Lack of sharing interest or enjoyment
  • Lack of response to name

Impairment in Communication:

  • Lack of showing gestures
  • Lack of coordination of nonverbal communication
  • Unusual prosody (little variation in pitch, odd intonation, irregular rhythm, unusual voice quality)

Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests:

  • Repetitive movements with objects
  • Repetitive movements or posturing of body, arms, hands, or fingers

If your toddler displays two or more of these characteristics, please notify your pediatrician.

Autism is not always diagnosed early on. In the United States, the average age of diagnosis for Autism is between 4.5 and 5.5 years of age. Early diagnosis is important because it can lead to early intervention. Early intervention has been linked with better behavioral and language outcomes, and has been associated with reduced treatment costs for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders over their lifetime.

Autism is not curable. Although research efforts are ongoing to better understand Autism Spectrum Disorders, at this time there is no cure.

Still autism is treatable! There are a wide range of treatments available for individuals with Autism including therapies to target behavioral concerns, speech and language delays and disorders, and social deficits. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends beginning intervention as soon as children are diagnosed with an Autistic disorder, and that the treatment includes 25 hours of “active engagement” per week, year round.

Beaumont Hospital offers a variety of comprehensive evaluation and intervention programs for children within our Department for Children’s Speech and Language Pathology, Center for Children’s Rehabilitation, and the Center for Human Development. If you are interested in these programs, please contact your pediatrician for a referral.

— Monica Puente, M.A. CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist, Beaumont Hospital Center for Children’s Rehabilitation, Department of Children’s Speech and Language Pathology

Autism References and Resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Autism Speaks

Center for Disease Control (CDC)

First Signs 

1 Response to “What Autism Is. What Autism Is Not.”

  1. 1 Anonymous April 28, 2011 at 2:28 am

    Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often can be reliably detected by age 3. In some cases even earlier than that. Recent studies suggest that kids may eventually be accurately diagnosed by the age of 1 year or even younger. One thing for certain is that if your child shows any of the early warning signs of autism then they should be evaluated by a professional who specializes in autism disorders. Visit my site to learn more about autism signs and symptoms

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