Autism is not caused by bad parenting or anything
you or your family may have,could have or should have done.
What Is Autism ?
Autism (sometimes called classical autism) is the
most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known
as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Autism is characterised by impaired social interaction,
problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual,
repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.
Other ASDs include Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome,
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental
Disorder not otherwise specified
(usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Experts estimate that three to six children
out of every 1,000 will have autism. Males are four times more likely to have
autism than females.
Autism is a biological disorder
of the brain that impairs communication and social skills. It
encompasses a broad
spectrum of disorders that may range from mild to severe. Autistics
have been described as being in their own world. Many high functioning
autistics describe two worlds; their world and the outside world.
Many autistics describe their experience as "thinking in pictures",
to quote Dr. Temple Grandin. There are serious sensory challenges
that accompany autism, and some say are the source of autism, that
must be understood to fully comprehend the disorder.
Some of the markers are as follows:
- Absence or delay of speech and language
- Repetition of words (echolalia) in place of a normal verbal
- Hand leading to communicate in place of verbal requests.
- Absence of verbal communication.
Difficulty relating to other children and
- Absence of eye contact. (When directly in front of the child,
they may look in every direction, except at the individual in
from of them)
- Apparent aloofness
- Lack of interest in other children and what the other children
- Lack of response to verbal requests.
- No response when name is called.
- Avoidance of physical contact (even with parents and siblings).
- Indifference to others in distress or pain.
- Self-stimulation, spinning, rocking, hand flapping, etc
- Inappropriate laughter or tantrums for no apparent reason
- Inappropriate attachment to objects
- Obsessive compulsive behaviours i.e. lining up objects
- Repetitive odd play for extended periods of time. Example:
stacking blocks for a half hour at a time
- Insistence on routine and sameness
- Difficulty dealing with interruption of routine schedule and
- Possible self injurious behavior or aggressive behavior toward
Hyper (over) or Hypo (under) sensitivity of the
five senses (See the discussion below)
Abnormal responses to the senses
A lack of response to pain or an overreaction to
something seemingly minor such as a door closing
What are some common signs
of autism ?
There are three distinctive behaviours that characterize
Autistic children have difficulties with social interaction, problems with
verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviours or narrow, obsessive
These behaviours can range in impact from mild
to disabling. The hallmark feature of autism is impaired social
interaction. Parents are usually the first to notice symptoms of
autism in their child. As early as infancy, a baby with autism
may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to
the exclusion of others for long periods of time. A child with
autism may appear to develop normallyand then withdraw and become
indifferent to social engagement. Children with autism may fail
to respond to their name and often avoid ye contact with other
people. They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking
or feeling because they cant understand social cues, such as tone
of voice or facial expressions, and dont watch other peoples faces
for clues about appropriate behaviour. They lack empathy.
Many children with autism engage in repetitive
movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behaviour
such as biting or head-banging. They also tend to start speaking
later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead
of I or me. Children with autism dont know how to play interactively
with other children. Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow
range of favourite topics, with little regard for the interests
of the person to whom they are speaking. Many children with autism
have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive
to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation. These unusual reactions
may contribute to behavioural symptoms such as a resistance to
being cuddled or hugged.
How Is Autism Diagnosed ?
Autism varies widely in its severity and symptoms
and may go unrecognised, especially in mildly affected children
or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps. Doctors rely
on a core group of behaviours to alert them to the possibility
of a diagnosis of autism.
These behaviours are:
- Impaired ability to make friends with peers impaired ability
to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
- Absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
- Stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
- Restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity
- Preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
- Inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
Doctors will often use a questionnaire or other
screening instrument to gather information about a childs development
and behaviour. Some screening instruments rely solely on parent
observations; others rely on a combination of parent and doctor
observations. If screening instruments indicate the possibility
of autism, doctors will ask for a more comprehensive evaluation.
Autism is a complex disorder. A comprehensive evaluation
requires a multidisciplinary team including a psychologist, neurologist,
psychiatrist, speech therapist, and other professionals who diagnose
children with ASDs. The team members will conduct a thorough neurological
assessment and in-depth cognitive and language testing. Because
hearing problems can cause behaviours that could be mistaken for
autism, children with delayed speech development should also have
their hearing tested. After a thorough evaluation, the team usually
meets with parents to explain the results of the evaluation and
present the diagnosis.
Children with some symptoms of autism, but not
enough to be diagnosed with classical autism, are often diagnosed
with PDD-NOS. Children with autistic behaviours but well-developed
language skills are often diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Children
who develop normally and then suddenly deteriorate between the
ages of 3 to 10 years and show marked autistic behaviours may be
diagnosed with childhood disintegrative disorder. Girls with autistic
symptoms may be suffering from Rett Syndrome, a sex-linked genetic
disorder characterized by social withdrawal, regressed language
skills, and hand wringing.
What Causes Autism ?
Scientists are not certain what causes autism,
but its likely that both genetics and environment play a role.
Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the
disorder. Studies of people with autism have found irregularities
in several regions of the brain. Other studies suggest that people
with autism have abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters
in the brain. These abnormalities suggest that autism could result
from the disruption of normal brain development early in fetal
development caused by defects in genes that control brain growth
and that regulate how neurons communicate with each other. While
these findings are intriguing, they are preliminary and require
further study. The theory that parental practices are responsible
for autism has now been disproved.
What role does inheritance play ?
Recent studies strongly suggest that some people
have a genetic predisposition to autism. In families with one autistic
child, the risk of having a second child with the disorder is approximately
5 percent, or one in 20. This is greater than the risk for the
general population. Researchers are looking for clues about which
genes contribute to this increased susceptibility. In some cases,
parents and other relatives of an autistic child show mild impairments
in social and communicative skills or engage in repetitive behaviours.
Evidence also suggests that some emotional disorders, such as manic
depression, occur more frequently than average in the families
of people with autism.
Do symptoms of autism change over time
For many children, autism symptoms improve with
treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead
normal or near-normal lives. Children whose language skills regress
early in life, usually before the age of 3, appear to be at risk
of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. During adolescence,
some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioural
problems. Parents of these children should be ready to adjust treatment
for their child as needed.
How Is Autism Treated ?
There is no cure for autism. Therapies and behavioural
interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can
bring about substantial improvement. The ideal treatment plan coordinates
therapies and interventions that target the core symptoms of autism:
impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal
communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and interests.
Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the
Therapists use highly structured and intensive
skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social
and language skills. Family counselling for the parents and siblings
of children with autism often helps families cope with the particular
challenges of living with an autistic child.
There are a number of controversial therapies or
interventions available for autistic children, but few, if any,
are supported by scientific studies. Parents should use caution
before adopting any of these treatments.
What research is being done ?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke (NINDS) is one of the federal governments leading supporters
of biomedical research on brain and nervous system disorders. The
NINDS conducts research in its laboratories at the National Institutes
of Health in Bethesda, Maryland , and also awards grants to support
research at universities and other facilities.
As part of the Childrens Health
Act of 2000, the NINDS and three sister institutes have formed
the NIH Autism Coordinating
Committee to expand, intensify, and coordinate NIH’s autism
research. Eight dedicated research centres across the country have
been established as Centres of Excellence in Autism Research to
bring together researchers and the resources they need. The Centres
are conducting basic and clinical research, including investigations
into causes, diagnosis, early detection, prevention, and treatment,
such as the studies highlighted below:
Investigators are using animal models to study
how the neurotransmitter serotonin establishes connections between
neurons in hopes of discovering why these connections are impaired
in autism. Researchers are testing a computer-assisted program
that would help autistic children interpret facial expressions.
A brain imaging study is investigating areas of the brain that
are active during obsessive/repetitive behaviours in adults and
very young children with autism.
Other imaging studies are searching for brain abnormalities
that could cause impaired social communication in children with
Clinical studies are testing the effectiveness
of a program that combines parent training and medication to reduce
the disruptive behaviour of children with autism and other ASDs.
In the above section
we have tried to give an insight into Autism. This is not exhaustive
and should not be used for any form of assessment. If you have
concerns regarding your child seek professional help and advise.
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PRACTICAL TIPS FOR YOU AND
YOUR FAMILY TO DEAL WITH AUTISM
PARENTAL SURVIVAL - PRACTICAL HINTS.
1.Under the Irish Constitution the family unit is recognised as the best enviroment
to bring up a child. The constitution also recognises that the parent is the
primary educator of their child. These two points should empower all parents
and allow them to be at the centre of all decisions related to their autistic
2. Learn to be the best advoacte that you can for your child. Find out what
services are available to you locally. These service provision 'system' in
Ireland is not user friendly. It expects all parents to be experts and does
not volunteer information to you. You therefore need to be informed. Fellow
parents are the best source of information. Get to know your local autistic
group. Some are very good, others are not very well developed. Remember some
groups are very 'service' rooted, others are set up and act as support group/s
for like minded parents. If one does not suit , move on to another, or use
3. Always remember your child is unique. Each child develops slightly differently.
Each child starts from a slightly different base. Focus on what your child
can do. Take pride and appreciate every small accomplishment your child makes.
Try not to make comparisons with a typically developing child. Cherish and
love them for who they are rather than what society or fellow parents/famly
members think they should be.
4. Do not let autism consume your life. It is all to easy for a parent or parents
to let autism take over every waking hour of their life. When you first get
the diagnosis it is natural that one tries to get as much information as possible
and try to plan, or rather struggle/fight to get appropriate and adequate services.
Remember if there are other children in the family they need some of your time
as well. Remember , everyone in the family unit needs support and time.
5. All parents should try and have some semblance of an adult life. Make time
and space for your partner. It is common , especially to begin with, for one
parent not to accept that their child has a disability. It is also common for
one parent to take over the planning of life of autistic child/children to
the exclusion of other parent/partner. One can accomplish more working as a
6. Remember, as a parent you are allowed to have feelings to. Don't forget
to talk about them. It's normal to have conflicting emotions about your autistic
child. You can be angry and depressed. Accept that your fellow parent/partner
can have different views on various issues related to autism. They to have
to go through an emotional roller coaster. Try not to get mad with other parent/partner
when it really is the autism that has you so upset and angry.
B. SIBLINGS AND AUTISM.
1. Learn to talk about autism with your friends. Be comfortable when you descibe
the condition with others. Remember if you are comfortable with autism then
your friends will be comfortable with it to. Learn to love and be proud of
your autistic sister or brother.
2. It is all right to admit that sometimes you love your brother or sister
, but sometimes they 'bug the hell out of you'. It is not a crime to sometimes
say , 'why do I have to have an autistic brother or sister'. Conflicting emotions
is normal and allowed.
3. Remember you can get angry with your autistic sibling, but that anger does
not change the situation, it only makes you(sibling) feel unhappier.
4. Your parents have they same feelings as you sometimes about autism. They
need your help and understanding too! Enjoy the good days you have with your
autistic brother or sister and hold on those memories when the going gets hard.
5. You have a right to a childhood. Make friends and try to realsie that you
are not reponsible for your autistic brother or sister all the time. You need
your own space too.
6. Spend time with your mum and dad alone. Do things together as a family.
7. Having a family member with autism can often be very time consuming, and
attention grabbing. You are important too.
C. THE EXTENDED FAMILY.
1. Grandparents and other extended family members need to have autism explained
to them. They need to be comfortable with condition. If they feel comfortable
with autism then son/daughter's family can feel comfortable taking to them
about their worries and fears.
2. Extended family need to respect the decisions that parents of autistic child
3. Try not to compare grandchildren or cousins with autistic child. Remember
that children with autism can be brought up to achieve their personal best.
4. Make time for autistic child.
5. Be supportive of parents of autistic child.
6. As children with autism like routines , find one thing that you can do together
that is structured , even if it is going for a walk for ten minutes, playing
in garden for ten minutes.
7. If you do not know what to do to help your daughter or son or cousin then
8. Tell your son/daughter or cousin that they can talk to you whenever they
want, and don't be judgemental.