Frequently asked Questions about Autism

What is autism?


Autism is a severely incapacitating lifelong developmental disability that typically appears in the first three years of life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects functioning of the brain. Autism and its behavioral symptoms occur in approximately 2-4 per 10,000 births.


How is autism diagnosed?


There are no medical tests for autism. Autism is diagnosed by the presence or absence of certain behaviors in four areas. The first area is the way a child develops. For example, in the first year of life a normal child learns to walk, talk and interact with you, so that by the end of the first year you have a ‘little person’ on your hands. A child with autism has very inconsistent development. He/she may start to develop normally and then seem to stop; may start to talk and stop, may have very good motor skills or be very good in some areas and very poor in others. It is this inconsistency in development that is important in making the diagnosis of autism.


What causes autism?


At this point we do not know what causes autism. However, current research indicates that anything that can produce structural or functional damage in the central nervous system can also produce the syndrome of autism. In rare case there may be more than one autistic child in the family. At this point, it is believed that about 10 per cent of case of autism can be accounted for genetically. Generally no one can tell why the child is autistic.


Is there a link between autism and vaccines?


There is no conclusive scientific evidence that any part of a vaccine or combination of vaccines causes autism, even though researchers have done many studies to answer this important question. There is also no proof that any material used to make or preserve the vaccine plays a role in causing autism.


Although there have been reports of studies that relate vaccines to autism, these findings have not held up under further investigation. One vaccine ingredient that has been studied specifically is thimerosal, previously used as a preservative in many recommended childhood vaccines. However, in 2001 thimerosal was removed or reduced to trace amounts in all childhood vaccines except for one type of influenza vaccine, and thimerosal-free alternatives are available for influenza vaccine. Evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association between thimerosal and autism.


What is the treatment for autism?


As of today the best treatment for autism is to impart to the autistic children a structured education and training so as to eventually make them self-reliant and suitably rehabilitated to live an independent life with as little help as possible. All that is required is to enable them to utilize to the fullest their intellectual potential and capabilities. They can be made to contribute to society to the best of their abilities and potential.


What is the difference between autism and mental retardation?


Most people with mental retardation show a relatively even rate of skill development, even if it is at a lower than the normal range. While individuals with autism typically show uneven skill development with deficits in certain areas, especially in their ability to communicate and relate to others, they may have special skills in other areas.


What can parents/teachers of children with autism do?


The most important thing parents and teachers dealing with persons with autism can do is to educate themselves about the disorder and become an advocate for the child and family. It is important to identify a professional who can help them through the system initially Parents and teachers must work together closely. It is also critical to meet other parents of children with autism. Other parents and teachers can share experiences on how to handle certain problems that may arise for the child and the family.


Can the child ever live an independent life?


Children with autism do have potential for building up their skills and they can be helped if they receive early, well-focused intervention. Depending on individual skill profile and the appropriateness and intensity of intervention they receive, children with autism can lead relatively independent lives.


Is there a cure?


At this point we do not know what causes autism and so cannot fix (cure) what is wrong in the child’s brain. Many interventions (medications, diets etc) are being tried. The only thing that is found to help in all cases is an appropriate training program that is very specific to the child’s needs. It is a lifelong condition, but with appropriate intervention (training methods) the child can progress to his/her fullest potential.


What are the chances of the child going to a regular school?


There are a number of autistic children who have integrated into regular schools. The chances depend on several factors. The most important is- what is the skill profile, how early was the diagnosis made and thereafter what kind of early intervention was provided? Most children with autism have different learning styles from regular children and therefore teaching styles also need to be different.


Will the child ever speak; if so, when?


A large number of autistic children (about 30-50 per cent) do not use speech. It is very difficult to say when and whether the child will ever speak. It is confirmed that there is no difficulty in their oral mechanism that prevents them from speaking. They do not speak for reasons as yet unclear. Experience with children with autism has shown that if the environment is conducive, and people are aware of the kind of speech they themselves need to use with the child, it can produce positive results.


Can speech therapy help?


Speech therapy can help some children. It is absolutely essential for the speech therapist to understand autism in general and also the individual child. Otherwise, the conventional methods of speech therapy do not help children with autism. However, every child with autism can benefit from communication therapy.


What makes the autistic child hyperactive?


Hyperactivity can have a medical reason. However, most children with autism are restless because of impairment in their cognitive, communicative and social skills. Often they eat a lot to keep themselves occupied. Eating junk food (chips, chocolates and aerated soft drinks with preservatives) can also increase hyperactivity.


Why does the child keep playing with fingers/rocking back and forth/spinning around, etc?


Children with autism respond to sensations in ways which are different from that of others. They have a condition known as sensory modalities (hearing, sight, taste, touch, smell, balance). These unusual mannerisms like flapping and rocking are for them natural responses or methods of coping with sensory difficulties.


What are chances of autism in the next child born? Can we have a normal child?


About 10 per cent of the cases of autism can be accounted for genetically. If there is one child with autism in the family, risk of having another child with autism is much higher than in the general population.


Is autism more common in certain groups of people?


Three groups are at higher-than-normal risk for autism spectrum disorders, including: Boys Siblings of those with autism People with certain other developmental disorders, such as Fragile X syndrome.



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