What is Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD)?

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Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex set of neurological disorders that severely impair social, communicative and cognitive functions. Though a thorough understanding of the science behind and treatment methodologies for autism is difficult, the basic understanding of these concepts is paramount to spreading awareness of ASD. Our organization works to disseminate information about ASD to the public and provide education concerning autism. Here are some quick facts to highlight important information about autism and links for further reading:

Defining Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex set of neurological disorders that severely impair social, communicative and cognitive functions. Individuals with ASD suffer from cognitive impairments, though some have typical or above average IQs. Typical ASD behaviors include stereotyped actions (hand flapping, body rocking), insistence on sameness, resistance to change and, in some cases, aggression or self-injury. Between 30-50% of people with autism have seizures. Autism was originally believed to be a form of schizophrenia brought on by a traumatic experience or bad parenting. This is not the case.

Autism Prevalence
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network determined that approximately 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 for boys, and 1 in 252 for girls) is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States.

Causes of Autism
No one is sure what causes autism. Through twin studies, scientists have determined that autism is a genetically based condition. For example, if one identical twin has autism then there is an 80-90% chance that the other twin will also be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.  The chance that fraternal twins will both be affected by ASD if one twin is afflicted is approximately 3-10%. Scientists are unsure what, if any, environmental triggers may be involved in autism. Beliefs in the late 1990s and early 2000s that vaccines may cause autism have since been disprovent through numerous studies.

Diagnosis
It is possible to detect signs of autism in infants as young as 6-18 months. For example, if a baby fixates on objects or does not respond to people, he or she may be exhibiting early signs of an autism spectrum disorder.  Older babies and toddlers may fail to respond to their names, avoid eye contact, lack joint attention, or engage in repetitive movements such as rocking, or arm flapping. They may play with toys in unusual ways.  Parents who notice these signs, or are concerned their children are not meeting developmental milestones, should contact their pediatricians and request a developmental screening.

Treatments
Scientists agree that the earlier a child receives early intervention services the better the child’s prognosis. All children with autism can benefit from early intervention, and some may gain enough skills to be able to attend a mainstream school.  The most effective treatments available today are applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and occupational, speech and physical therapy, which have proven to be the most effective.  There is no cure for autism, and most individuas with ASD will need support and services throughout their lifetime.  Many supposed “cures” for autism advertised on the internet are not backed through scientific studies and can be harmful.

Discovering Autism
Autism was first described by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943. He reported on eleven children who showed a marked lack of interest in other people, but a highly unusual interest in the inanimate environment.

© 2012 Autism Science Foundation