Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates, relates to other people and how they make sense of the world around them. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children with autism can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. While all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.
Individuals with ASD must show symptoms from early childhood, typically recognized in the first two years of life. The symptoms fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms. This spectrum will allow clinicians to account for the variations in symptoms and behaviors from person to person. Symptoms of autism may include:
Autism symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
Research suggests that autism has largely genetic causes, but environmental factors may also play a role. Autism is not caused by a person’s upbringing or their social circumstances and nor is it the fault of the individual with the condition or their family.
Having increased genetic risk does not mean a child will definitely develop ASD. Many researchers are focusing on how various genes interact with each other and environmental factors to better understand how they increase the risk of autism.
Researchers are studying many environmental factors such as family medical conditions, parental age and other demographic factors, exposure to toxins, and complications during birth or pregnancy. As with genes, it's likely that more than one environmental factor is involved in increasing risk for autism.
To date, there is no evidence that any vaccine can cause autism or any kind of behavioral disorder. A suspected link between the MMR vaccine and autism (measles, mumps, rubella) was suggested by some parents of children with autism, but well-documented, wide-ranging studies have discounted any association. Speculation that a preservative used in vaccines, thimerosol, is responsible for an increase in autism cases has also led to studies that have shown no evidence of a link.
Subtypes of autism include:
There are many treatment options, social services and programs, and other resources that can help those parents whose child is diagnosed with autism.
While according to the current state of science there's no proven cure for autism yet, treating ASD early, using school-based programs, and getting proper medical care can greatly reduce ASD symptoms and increase your child's ability to grow and learn new skills.
Research has shown that intensive behavioral therapy during the toddler or preschool years can significantly improve cognitive and language skills in young children with ASD. Children with autism generally benefit most from a highly structured environment and routines. Treatment for autism may include a combination of the following:
Science does not know ways how to prevent autism. However, early intervention is critical and may help to maximize a child's ability to speak, learn, and function. It is very important that all children see a pediatrician regularly so that any signs of autism can be detected early.
The outlook for people with autism varies depending on the severity of symptoms, the age at which treatment is started, and the availability of supportive resources for the child. Symptoms in many children decrease with intervention or with age. Some adults with autism are able to lead normal lives. Some severely affected children may not be able to live independently as adults due to their lack of functional and communication skills. The outlook is better for children with higher levels of intelligence and communication skills.
Frank Gillespie has a Master's Degree in Counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He is a nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He has provided therapy for over 23 years. During his career, he has helped more than 10,000 people move past their obstacles towards reaching their potential and fulfillment in their lives. He practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a warm and nurturing approach. In addition to being a therapist, Frank has been an adjunct college professor teaching social work, a clinical consultant, a clinical director, and a seminar speaker. Frank has recently retired from his full time practice to focus on a part time online practice. He is married. He enjoys listening to music, watching sports, power walking, swimming, reading and writing.