1. What is Autism?
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that affects an individual’s development throughout their life. It is a spectrum disorder with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) include Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Rhett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and PDD-NOS. ASD is characterized by significant impairments in three core areas: social interaction, communication, and repetitive, stereotyped, and restricted behaviors.
2. What Causes Autism?
The exact causes of autism have not been identified. Autism is a brain disorder, present from birth, which affects the way the brain uses information. Recent research has identified some genetic markers for autism, though the exact role of these markers is not fully understood. Some research suggests a physical problem affecting those parts of the brain that process language and information coming in from the senses. There may be some imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. Autism may indeed result from a combination of several “causes” both biological and environmental.
3. Who is Affected by Autism?
Autism is one of the four most common developmental disabilities and is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S. It occurs in 1 of 150 births. Autism is four times more likely to occur in boys than girls. Autism is distributed throughout the world among all races, nationalities, and social classes. It usually appears in the first 3 years of life.
4. How is Autism Diagnosed?
There is no single tool or test for diagnosing autism. A diagnosis can be made by any clinician (psychologist, SLP, psychiatrist, neurologist) whose scope of practice allows him or her to make a clinical diagnosis. Diagnosis is best done by a team of professionals, including a developmental pediatrician, psychologist, speech-language pathologist, in some cases social worker, and occupational therapist.
5. How Severe are Behavior Problems in People with Autism?
In autism, behavior problems range from very severe to mild. Severe behavior problems take the form of highly unusual, aggressive, and in some cases, even self-injurious behavior. These behaviors may persist and be difficult to change. In its mild form, autism resembles a learning disability. Usually, however, even people who are only mildly affected are substantially handicapped due to deficits in the areas of communication and socialization.
6. What is the Difference between Autism and Mental Retardation?
Autism occurs by itself or in conjunction with other disorders, such as mental retardation. Most people with autism (80%) also have mental retardation ranging from mild to severe. Individuals with only mental retardation show relatively even skill development, while persons with autism typically show uneven skill development with deficits in certain area (most frequently in their ability to communicate and relate to others) and distinct skills in other areas. Strengths are often seen in auditory memory or ability to do visual processing tasks such as puzzles or matching games.
7. What is the Difference between Autism and Pervasive Development Disorder?
The term Pervasive Development Disorder has been used recently by professionals to describe children who have the symptoms of autism either to a mild degree, or display fewer symptoms, but do not show the “classic” form. In the past these children might have been described as having autistic features, residual autism, or being autistic-like. A “pervasive” disorder means it affects all areas of functioning, not just one, as in a language disorder or mental retardation.
8. Can People with Autism be Helped?
Yes, autism is treatable. Studies show that all people who have autism can improve significantly with proper instruction. Many individuals with autism eventually become more responsive to others as they learn to understand the world around them.
9. How Can Persons with Autism Learn Best?
With specifically trained teachers, using structured programs that emphasize individual instruction, persons with autism can learn o function at home and in the community. The technique that has helped many is behavior modification, in which, with systematic analysis of behavior and consistent reinforcement, children learn to care for their own needs, behave in more sociable ways and acquire enough skills to lead a productive life.