What is Autism?
Autism is It is a common, biologically based, neurodevelopmental disroder. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a broad term that encompasses a group of disorder including Autistic disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified. ASD is frequently characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities.
How common is Autism?
Autism affects about 1 in 59 children per estimates by the CDC. It is 4.2 times more common in boys than girls. It is reported in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Large scale studies have associated Autism with higher socioeconomic status, however researchers believe the link may be related more to access to diagnostic services (McDougle, 2016). Likewise, autism has been found to be more common in white children than Hispanic and non-Hispanic black children, however differences are narrowing, and researchers believe it is related more to health services utilization, parental health beliefs, and acculturation than race or ethnicity (McDougle, 2016).
In Arizona, about 1 in 64 (1.5%) children are identified with ASD, similar to the nationwide average percentage of 1.5%.
What are the most common characteristics of autism?
As every child is unique, each child will display a unique combination of characteristics. Please keep in mind that not one characteristic alone will determine whether your child has Autism, and only a trained professional can offer an official diagnosis.
Some characteristics of autism may include:
- Delays in social interaction
- Delays in language skills
- Resistance to change, very routine bound
- Repetitive motor mannerisms (clapping, rocking, etc.)
- Repetitive language mannerisms (repetition of words)
- Little or no eye contact
- Over and under sensitivity to pain and emotions
- Delays in gross/fine motor skills
- Compulsive behavior
- Unaware of others’ emotions – insensitivity
- Intense interest in a limited number of things
- Problem paying attention
How did my child develop Autism? What causes Autism?
There is no way to know for sure how anyone gets autism.
The current understanding of Autistic Spectrum Disorder is that it has no single cause, cannot be explained by any one gene, and that most cases result from problems in early brain development caused by environmental risk factors interacting with autism risk genes.
Environmental risk factors can include genetic mutation, advanced parental age at the time of the conception (both mom and dad), chemicals in the pregnant mother’s environment, like air pollution and pesticides, or maternal lifestyle factors like diet, nutrition, and alcohol and tobacco use, or medical factors such as certain viral infections of the mother during her pregnancy, or diabetes during her pregnancy, or low birth weight, premature birth, or difficult delivery of the baby. Please keep in mind that these factors alone are not enough to cause autism.
Autism has been shown to run in families. Parents who have one child with ASD have a 2%-18% chance of having a second child with ASD, thus early screening is important.
Recently, researchers have identified many rare gene changes or mutations associated with ASD. There are over 100 known autism risk genes. Genetic testing is recommended, as it may provide more resources for treatment and support.
Are vaccines to blame?
According to the CDC, there is no link between vaccines and autism. Researchers have conducted extensive research for decades on vaccines, their antigens, and ingredients, and have failed to find any definite link between autism and vaccines. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a list of this research.
Is there a cure for Autism?
Although experts have been unable thus far to find a cure for ASD, effective therapies have been developed that can reduce symptoms and improve life satisfaction. As many of these therapies are known to work better with earlier implementation, early diagnosis and prompt intervention are essential. As ASD is often detectable by 18 months, and reliably diagnosed by 24 months, experts agree that every child should be screened for ASD at ages 18 and 24 months.
While it is true that some children will outgrow their ASD diagnosis, or benefit so much from treatment that the diagnosis becomes inappropriate or unnecessary, many others, despite treatment, will continue to be severely affected throughout their lives. Even the most severely affected individuals though, with timely, aggressive, and high quality treatment, can achieve significant and lasting improvement in their daily functioning and quality of life.
What should I do if I suspect something is wrong with my child?
Don’t wait, contact a doctor right away, as early intervention is key. Most therapies are known to work better with earlier implementation. While symptoms can become prevalent as early as 12 months, most children are still not diagnosed until after 4 years of age.
Knowing developmental milestones is an important factor in allowing you to act early. Some red flags in infants include no babbling or gesturing by 12 months, no single words by 16 months, and no 2-word spontaneous speech by 24 months.
Contact SACE. Our transdisciplinary team will perform a comprehensive evaluation and come up with an individualized treatment plan for you and your child. The evaluation team includes, but is not limited to: A child psychiatrist, primary care provider, physician assistant, registered nurse, clinical psychologist, ABA licensed behavioral analysts, speech, occupational, and physical therapist.
How do I deal with my child’s diagnosis?
First, be kind to yourself. It is not your fault. Accept your feelings, but know there is no way to completely prevent autism.
Once you have done that, arm yourself with knowledge and a strong support team. This includes family, community, and medical professionals.
Be patient. Some interventions will work better than others, but with a strong support system, you will be able to find the right care plan for your child.
Reach out. Do not be afraid to reach out to local support and advocacy groups if needed. Other parents can be a great source of support, understanding, and information.
Focus on your child’s achievements. Living with autism is a lifelong diagnosis, and sometimes it is easy to get discouraged. Be sure to take the time to celebrate your child’s accomplishments, and try to not focus on the differences between your child and their peers.
Will my child be able to attend school?
Depending on where they fall on the spectrum, most children are able to still attend school, whether it be in a mainstream or special education classroom. SB&H offers easily accessible integrated care services in 90 schools throughout 13 school districts for more than 400 children and families in Maricopa County. We can work with your child’s school to get them the appropriate level of care.
How can I tell if a child has Autism?
No two children with autism will display the exact same characteristics, but there are some common, easily recognizable characteristics that may provide you positive clues. Many children have difficulty relating to others, hard time recognizing social cues, show delayed/irregular social interaction skills, and do not sustain eye contact for long – if at all (it’s too intense for them). They are also prone to repetitive behaviors (motor – such as clapping, and verbal – such as uttering the same phrase over and over). And finally, these children may be more or less sensitive to outside stimuli (sights, sounds, touch).
What does it mean to be ‘on the spectrum’?
Autism is a spectrum disorder, as it develops in many different forms. A diagnosis may range from mild to severe, and each child will exhibit similar, but a unique combination of symptoms. For example one child may be completely nonverbal but have normal intelligence, while another may be only slightly delayed in speech, but have an intellectual disability.
A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately. These include autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, and Asperger syndrome.