What is Autism?


Autism is a complex neurological disorder that typically appears during a child’s first three years of life. Autism spectrum (ASD) and autism are both general terms for the complex disorder of brain development. With the May 2013 publication of the new DSM-5 diagnostic manual, autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger will be merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. These development disorders affect each child differently, demonstrating combinations of behaviors that range from mild to severe. The term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is used to capture the wide diversity of manifestation of the disorder.


Children with ASD diagnoses will have difficulties in communication, reciprocal social interactions and play. A young child with ASD is likely to have limited or no verbal language, difficulty playing with other children, repetitive or restrictive interactions with objects and may resist change in routines. Although Autism is described by a certain set of behaviors, children affected by the disorder can exhibit these behaviors in differing degree of severity.


ASD can be related to intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some children with ASD excel in areas such as visual skills, music, math and art.


Autism appears to have its effect in very early brain development. Methods of early diagnosis are major focus of researchers because early interventions with proven behavioral therapies can substantial improve outcomes. Increasing autism awareness is a key aspect of early diagnosis and one in which our families and communities play an invaluable role.


What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorders?


The cause of ASD, unfortunately, has not been attributed to any single cause. Current research suggests that the primary cause is linked to biological or neurological differences in the brain. It is said that multiple causes will eventually be identified such as a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development. A number of environmental stresses appear to further a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves advanced parental age at the time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. These factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.  Furthermore, it is determined that ASD is not caused by poor parenting nor is it a mental illness.


Is there a cure for ASD?


At this time, there is no "cure" for ASD. There is a link to differences in the brain of a child with ASD, and therefore, it may be not be cured. Studies show that proven educational treatments have been developed over the past 30 years to positively change many of the behaviors and deficits associated with ASD. Early intervention is important to improving long term outcomes.