FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION’S
There is no blood test to diagnose autism spectrum disorder. A diagnosis is made based on behaviors. In order to be diagnosed with autism, an individual must display deficits in social communication and social interaction, and show restrictive and repetitive behaviors.
Absolutely. In fact, it’s a child’s right: According to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990, your child deserves access to a “free and appropriate” education funded by the government, whether it be in a mainstream or special education classroom.
hough autism cannot be definitively diagnosed until around 18 to 24 months, research shows that children as young as 8 to 12 months may exhibit early signs. Parents should look for symptoms such as no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months; no babbling or back-and-forth gestures (e.g. pointing) by 12 months; or any loss of babbling, speech or social skills at any age. For more information, see Learn the Signs page and the “Developmental Milestones” section of our Video Glossary.
Research suggests that the development of autism is rooted in very early brain development. However, in most cases, no one cause can be identified. Research has identified several genes that can cause autism in and of themselves. These account for about 15 percent of cases of autism spectrum disorders. Research has identified more than 100 genes or gene changes (mutations) that increase the risk that a child will develop autism. In most cases, genetics alone can’t distinguish why one person has autism and another does not. Gene-environment interactions appear to be at play. When scientists use the term “environment,” they are referring to a wide range of non genetic factors. Those most associated with increased autism risk include advanced parental age at time of conception and prematurity with very low birth weight. Other possible environmental risk factors include maternal diabetes or infection during pregnancy and certain birth complications, particularly those that may involve oxygen deprivation to a baby’s brain.
Not long ago, the answer to this question would have been “we have no idea.” Research is now delivering the answers. First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. Research has identified more than a hundred autism risk genes. In around 15 percent of cases, a specific genetic cause of a person’s autism can be identified. However, most cases involve a complex and variable combination of genetic risk and environmental factors that influence early brain development.
In other words, in the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of nongenetic, or environmental, influence further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these environmental risk factors involves events before and during birth. They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy, extreme prematurity and very low birth weight and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. Mothers exposed to high levels of pesticides and air pollution may also be at higher risk of having a child with ASD. It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.
A small but growing body of research suggests that autism risk is less among children whose mothers took prenatal vitamins (containing folic acid) in the months before and after conception.
Increasingly, researchers are looking at the role of the immune system in autism. Autism Speaks is working to increase awareness and investigation of these and other issues, where further research has the potential to improve the lives of those who struggle with autism.
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence over the last 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.
ASD is estimated to affect more than 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous disorder of behavior characterized by qualitative deficits in social communication and interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, activities, and interests. Sensory hypersensitivities or hyposensitivities to the environment are also highly prevalent in children with ASD.
It is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to
other people. It affects how they make sense of the world around them.
It is a spectrum condition, which means while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their
conditions will affect them in different ways. Children with autism at times are also found to have
accompanying learning disabilities. They may experience over-or- under sensitivity to sounds, touch,
taste, smell, light or colors.
Autism spectrum disorder causes delay in many basic areas of development, such as learning to talk,
play and interacting with others. Autism is seen commonly now a day. The main features are delayed
speech, poor eye contact, restricted interest with repetitive behavior. Parents should be aware of its
early symptoms so that early intervention can be started. There are a number of interventions
available, but the most scientific one that has shown best results is Applied Behavior Analysis.
Often parents are the first to notice that their child is showing unusual behaviors such as failing to
make eye contact, not responding to his or her name or playing with toys in unusual, repetitive ways.
We encourage parents to trust their instincts and find a doctor who will listen and refer their child to
appropriate specialists for diagnosis. Unfortunately, doctors unfamiliar with diagnosing autism
sometimes dismiss parent concerns, delaying diagnosis and the opportunity for
early intervention therapies. Autism Speaks and other autism organizations are working hard
to raise awareness of early signs among physicians as well as parents.
From birth to at least 36 months of age, every child should be screened for developmental
milestones during routine well visits. When such a screening—or a parent—raises concerns
about a child’s development, the doctor should refer the child to a specialist in
developmental evaluation and early intervention.
Most children with autism are seen to indulge in certain repetitive behaviors (stim), which makes them
feel good in some way. It counteracts an overwhelming sensory environment, or alleviates the high
levels of internal anxiety these kids typically feel every day. It is all used as a calming stratergy, we all
engage ourselves in such stim in everyday life. Eg: when one feels angry, upset or overwhelmed, we
move around and also let out some noise. This is how we cope and it helps most of us to calm down. But
when this stim becomes uncontrollable, or occur excessively in inappropriate settings preventing a child
from socially acceptable interaction, then it become something to address.
Hence, Stereotypical or self-stimulation behavior refers to repetitive body movement of objects. These
movements are used solely to stimulate one’s own senses. This behavior is common in many individuals
with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in children and adults with autism spectrum
disorders. This is also known as stimming/stim and self-stimulation. It becomes very important for us to
address to these stim as it can turn unhealthy or more serious by involving self injurious behaviors.
These can include hair pulling, biting, hitting oneself etc.
Few common self-stimulatory behaviors:
– Hand flapping
– Rocking back and forth
– Spinning in a circle
– Finger flicking
– Head banging
– Staring at lights
– Snapping fingers
– Moving fingers in front of their eyes
– Lining up toys
– Spinning objects
– Repeating words or sounds
– Tapping ears
– Switching lights on and off
What are the symptoms of Autism?
A. Symptoms as a child –
- The child may not respond to his/her name being called but is responsive to other sound stimuli
- They tend to indicate their needs by pulling the parent and placing the parent’s hand on the object of desire (known as “hand-on-hand gesture”)
- Many children do not indicate any needs, becoming very independent from a young age
- They either may not speak or may have lots of self-talk or may repeat what they have heard, either immediately (immediate echolalia) or after a period (such as repeating dialogs from television, using phrases said at home non meaningfully – delayed echolalia)
- Many children tend to have a lot of motor stereotypies such as spinning self or objects, hand flapping, jumping, clapping, and twirling.
- They usually do not like change and get upset when their routine is disturbed
- Many of them also have unusual sensory responses – a few are hypersensitive (close ears to sounds such as the pressure cooker whistle, avoid touching sticky food, and gets upset with certain textures of clothes) and few others are hyposensitive (insensitivity to pain, preferring to walk on tip toes, looking at shadows, and mouthing all objects).
B. Symptoms as an infant –
An infant with autism may present as early as by 6 months of age.
- They tend to be unusually quiet, prefer to be on the bed than being carried by their mother
- They may also be irritable with difficulty in feeding
- The infant may not engage in reciprocal behavior or participate in social games such as peek-a-boo
- Social smile, where the child looks at the caregiver and smiles reciprocally, may be absent or delayed
- The development may be normal till 12–18 months after which they may slow down or regress in their language and social skills.
C. Approach to Speech Delay
By age three, most children have passed predictable milestones on the path to learning language. By contrast, young children with autism tend to be delayed in babbling and speaking and learning to use gestures. Some infants who later develop autism coo and babble during the first few months of life before losing these communicative behaviors. Others experience significant language delays and don’t begin to speak until much later. With therapy, however, most people with autism do learn to use spoken language and all can learn to communicate.
D. Sleep dysfunction
Sleep problems are common among children and adolescents with autism and may likewise affect many adults.
Pica is a tendency to eat things that are not food. Eating non-food items is a normal part of development between the ages of 18 and 24 months. However, some children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities continue to eat items such as dirt, clay, chalk or paint chips. For this reason, it is important to test for elevated blood levels of lead in those who persistently mouth fingers or objects that might be contaminated with this common environmental toxin.
F. Sensory Processing Problems
Many persons with autism have unusual responses to sensory input. They have difficulty in processing and integrating sensory information, or stimuli, such as sights, sounds smells, tastes and/or movement. They may experience seemingly ordinary stimuli as painful, unpleasant or confusing. Some of those with autism are hypersensitive to sounds or touch, a condition also known as sensory defensiveness. Others are under-responsive, or hyposensitive. An example of hypersensitivity would be the inability to tolerate wearing clothing, being touched or being in a room with normal lighting. G. Seizure Disorders
Seizure disorders, including epilepsy, occur in as many as 39 percent of those with autism. It is more common in people with autism who also have intellectual disability than those without. Someone with autism may experience more than one type of seizure. The easiest to recognize is the grand mal, or tonic-clonic, seizure. Others include “petit mal” seizures (when a person temporarily appears “absent”) and subclinical seizures, which may be apparent only with electroencephalogram (EEG) testing.
H. Genetic Disorders
Some children with autism have an identifiable genetic condition that affects brain development. These genetic disorders include Fragile X syndrome, Angelman syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and chromosome 15 duplication syndrome and other single-gene and chromosomal disorders. While further study is needed, single gene disorders appear to affect 15 to 20 percent of those with ASD. Some of these syndromes have characteristic features or family histories, the presence of which may prompt your doctor to refer to a geneticist or neurologist for further testing.
There are three major areas of difficulty that are experienced by all diagnosed with autism:
Difficulty with social communication
– Have difficulty in comprehending verbal or non verbal language
– Find it difficult to understand facial expression (complex ones)
– Unable to understand joke or sarcasm, also face difficulty in comprehending common
phrases and saying
– Difficulty in sustaining to-and –fro conversation, perhaps often seen to be repeating things
said by others or keep talking about their own interest/thoughts
Difficulty with social interaction
– Find it difficult to recognize or understand others emotions, also face difficulty in expressing
– May not understand unwritten rules
– Appear to be insensitive
– Behave inappropriately in public places
– Lack seeking comfort from others
Difficulty with social imagination
Difficulty with social imagination does not mean that they lack the ability to imagine, they have
extremely creative and beautiful mind. Social imagination allows people to understand and
predict others behavior, people with autism lack this ability. They find it complex to:
– Prepare for change
– Cope in new situations
– Predict what will happen next
– Understand the connection between thoughts, feelings and actions