Accompanying Conditions  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

 Autism Overview

What is Autism?
Signs
Prevalence
Causes

 Diagnosis and Consultation

 Treatment and Education

 Living with Autism

 Products to Help

What is Autism?
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a neurological disorder that affects brain functioning, influencing development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Individuals with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, and leisure/play activities. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to normal sensory experiences. Autism is described as a spectrum disorder because it affects each individual differently and to varying degrees.

In the diagnostic manual used to classify disabilities, the DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), “autistic disorder” is listed as a category under the heading of “Pervasive Developmental Disorders .” A diagnosis of autistic disorder is made when an individual displays 6 or more of 12 symptoms listed across three major areas: social interaction, communication, and behavior. When children display similar behaviors but do not meet the criteria for autistic disorder, they may receive a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder-NOS (PDD not otherwise specified). DSM-IV Criteria for Autism in "plain English". From the BBB-Autism NewsletterSigns of PDD/AutismSome or all of the following traits may be observed in varying degrees:

• Communication problems (using and understanding language)
• Difficulty relating to people, objects, or events
• Unusual play with toys or other objects
• Difficulty with changes in routine or familiar surroundings
• Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns
Children with autism or PDD vary widely in abilities, intelligence, and behaviors. Some children do not speak. Others have language that often includes repeated phrases or conversations. Children with more advanced language skills tend to stick to a small range of topics and have difficulty with abstract concepts. Repetitive play, a narrow range of interests, and social skill deficits are usually present. Unusual responses to sensory information (i.e. loud noises, lights, certain textures of food or fabrics) are also common.The five disorders under PDD are: Prevalence
Autism is the most common of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The rate of autism a decade ago was 1 in 10,000. The Center for Disease Control's research indicates that 1 in 150 children are autistic today. According to the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, autism is growing at a startling rate of 10-17 percent per year. Autism affects individuals of all races, ethnicities, social classes, income levels, lifestyles, and educational levels. Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.Theories on CausesThere is much debate over the causes of autism. The mainstream medical community generally believes that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in autistic individuals when compared to their non-autistic counterparts. Some researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical issues. While no particular gene has been identified as causing autism, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities in many families. It also appears that some children are born with a higher vulnerability to autism, but the mainstream medical community feels that a single "trigger" that causes autism has yet to be identified. Other researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery, as well as environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals.

Autism tends to occur more frequently than expected among individuals who have certain medical conditions, including Fragile X syndrome, congenital rubella syndrome, and untreated phenylketonuria (PKU). The ingestion of certain harmful substances during pregnancy have also been associated with an increased risk of autism.

The question regarding a relationship between vaccines and autism continues to be debated. In 2001, an investigation by a committee of the Institute of Medicine concluded that the "evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship.... between MMR vaccines and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD)." The committee however, acknowledged that "they could not rule out" the possibility that the MMR vaccine could contribute to ASD in a small number of children. The controversy surrounding the mercury-based preservative "Thimerosal" continues to be espoused by grass roots organizations like Safeminds and The Autism Research Institute. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) stated it is "biologically plausible" that ethyl mercury in vaccines caused neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. The use of Thimerosal in vaccines has been banned in several US states.

Whatever the cause, it is clear that children with autism and PDD are born with the disorder or born with the potential to develop it. Bad parenting does not cause it and it is not a mental illness. Children with autism are not unruly kids who choose to misbehave.