Disabilities: Guide to Autism

Autism is one disorder within a complex series of disorders referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). This series of conditions create substantial impairments in one’s communication and interaction skills. Individuals with Autism may display odd behaviors or interests. They may have unusual ways of reacting, learning and paying attention to certain situations. Thinking and learning abilities of individuals with ASDs can greatly vary from severely challenged to gifted. Symptoms of ASDs can begin before the age of 3 and last throughout a person’s lifetime. ASDs occur in all ethnic, racial and socio-economic groups and are more likely to occur in males than females.

According to the Autism Society of America (ASA), Autism is a complex development disability that commonly appears within the first three years of life. It is typically a result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, resulting in poor communication and social skills. An individual with Autism may display mild to severe characteristics of the condition. They may have difficulty making eye contact, showing facial expressions or body language as they interact, seem uninterested in sharing experiences and do not have sufficient ability to create relationships with peers. People with Autism may also have difficulty with speech, may not be able to understand what others are saying, may repeat what others are saying as they cannot put together their own sentences and may lack make-believe or pretend play. Children with Autism commonly show repetitive behavior. They may show interest in certain activities or objects and play in repetitive ways. Children with Autism may require routine and have difficulty managing changes in their routine. They may spend time performing repetitive motions, such as waving their hands in front of their face.

Autism is a branch term used to describe several Pervasive Developmental Disorders, also referred to as the Autism spectrum. These disorders include Autism, Rett Syndrome, Asperger Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. There is no single known cause for this series of conditions as no two children with autism are alike. Research has shown that the primary suspect may be problems in genetics. Children with specific genes are more susceptible to the disorder as they effect brain development and changes how the brain communicates. Some genetic problems that cause Autism may be inherited, while others occur spontaneously. Environmental factors may also play a role in Autism. Researchers are currently exploring whether various factors, such as air pollutants and viral infections, may be a trigger for the condition. Controversy on whether or not childhood vaccines have a direct connection with Autism continues. Many believe that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine typically given around twelve months of age is the cause of Autism in some children. No reliable studies have shown the connection to be true.

No cure currently exists for Autism and treatment varies from case-to-case. Behavior and communication therapies exist to address the language, social and behavioral challenges associated with Autism. Some programs help families to better understand the condition and to reduce its symptoms. Others focus on teaching children how to communicate in social situations for more efficient interactions. While many children do not outgrow the condition, they may form the ability to function properly in society. Children with Autism often respond well to structured educational therapies. This consists of a team of specialists who work with children to develop social and communication skills through a wide range of activities. Preschool-age children who receive independent learning typically show good progress. Medications may also be prescribed to help improve the major signs of Autism. Anti-depressants may be given to treat anxiety. Anti-psychotic drugs are sometimes used for severe behavioral problems. Raising a child with Autism can be emotionally and physically draining. Parents should find a team of trusted professional to help make important decisions about the proper treatment. Take time to learn about the disorder to help you better understand how your child thinks and his or her attempts to communicate.

There are many misconceptions about individuals with Autism. Many believe that children with Autism may never be able to make eye contact. Some do make eye contact but may require several years of learning to acquire this skill. Another common myth about children with Autism is that they are unable to show affection. While affection is an emotion difficult for children with Autism to show, they may be able to create bonds with others and show affection. Contrary to popular belief, children with the condition are able to learn and many grow to lead happy and productive lives. The key is to figure out how each individual child learns and to teach them appropriately as each child is different. Autistic individuals are believed to be mentally retarded. This stereotype is untrue as mental retardation is a completely different condition than that of Autism. It is true that a large percentage, roughly 80 percent, of individuals with an Autism spectrum disorder display symptoms of mental retardation. Many children with Autism are also able to communicate verbally, while some cannot. Communication may progress slowly for children with Autism and will typically come with many challenges.

As the media shows more and more stories about the rise of Autism disorders in children, more parents are becoming concerned about their own young children. Autism is diagnosed in 1 out of every 150 American children. Understanding the causes, symptoms, risk factors and other important data about the Autism spectrum can help parents and educators when dealing with these disorders. Parents should be fully aware of the importance of early and continuous screening and surveillance of ASDs to ensure that children diagnosed with the condition are able to receive access to services as soon as possible. The sooner that a child receives intervention for Autism, the sooner they can begin to get better.

Use the resources provided below to learn more about the Autism spectrum and how you can seek treatment for children with Autism.