What is Autism?

A big spectrum

The truth is we don't really know.  Autism is a diagnosis that describes a collection of symptoms; what causes them is not completely understood.  Most scientists believe autism is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. The diagnosis Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) now includes Asperger syndrome, PDD-NOS, childhood disintegrative disorder and autistic disorder. The broad spectrum is a reflexion of the fact that when we talk about "autism," we are probably looking at "autisms," a number of distinct conditions that share some common traits.  This is why there is such a wide range in severity and individuals with "autism" can be so different. 

The Diagosis

To receive a diagnosis of ASD, a person must show persistent deficits in two domains:

1.) social communication and social interaction, and

2.) restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. Many people on the spectrum have sensory issues and the new diagnostic criteria now includes an evaluation of whether a person has hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment.

Signs of Autism

Autism is treatable. Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.

Lack of or delay in spoken language
Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
Little or no eye contact
Lack of interest in peer relationships
Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
Persistent fixation on parts of objects

Incidence Rates

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Autism Prevalence Report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 68 births in the United States – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125 – and almost 1 in 54 boys.

This is increasing the debate on 1.) what is causing the increase and whether there is a need for a cure and 2.) how we can provide better resources to assist parents and caregivers who have children diagnosed with autism. 

Unique Minds

In people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), no two brains are alike when it comes to connectivity between regions, scientists have found, which is in stark contrast to the relatively uniform way the brains of people without autism are arranged. People with diverse minds produce new solutions and more interesting ideas. Many researchers and experts such as Simon Baron-Cohen (2005) and Temple Grandin (2010) believe that Autism is not so much a disease but a difference in learning styles.  Rather than trying to find a way to ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ these children it is more important to understand them and cater to their differences.