What is Autism ?

There is no one type of autism, but many.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Autism is a developmental disorder marked by impaired social interaction, limited communication, behavioural challenges, and a limited range of activities and interests. Autism affects an estimated 1 in 68 children.

Autism affects information processing in the brain and how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood.

Syndromes that are associated with ASD include Fragile X syndrome (FXS), Rett Syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Tardive Dyskinesia, Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS) and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.

Several environmental factors have been implicated at conceptional, prenatal and perinatal stages. These include advanced maternal age, autoimmune disease, IVF pregnancy, delivery complications, antenatal/perinatal infections and low birth weight. 

Other environmental factors implicated in ASD include exposure to organophosphates and certain other pesticides, metals, volatile organic compounds, and air pollution, particularly particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

Vaccines do not cause autism. Parents may first become aware of autistic symptoms in their child around the time of a routine vaccination. This has led to unsupported theories blaming vaccine “overload”, a vaccine preservative, or the MMR vaccine for causing autism. Media coverage of vaccine issues may inflate the perception of uncertainty by equal coverage of vaccine proponents and opponents.

There is higher incidence of co-occurring conditions such as sleep disorders and seizures; other developmental or behavioral diagnoses, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and mood disorders; and behavioral disorders, such as food refusal, self-injury, and aggression.

What are the signs of autism?

The Autism diagnosis age and intensity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Parents often notice signs during the first three years of their child’s life. These signs often develop gradually, though some Autistic children experience regression in their communication and social skills after reaching developmental milestones at a normal pace.

The following signs can help you identify whether your child might have autism.

Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Not Talking

If you are concerned that your child may have autism Spectrum Disorder, discuss with your pediatrician as soon as possible. If possible, see a development pediatrician. Early intervention is the key to your child’s succcess.

Overly interested in letters, numbers, and shapes.

Also, lines up toys or other objects (e.g.,wheels), very organized,and has obsessive interests.

Not Pointing

Does not point or respond to pointing.

Craves movement

Flaps hands, rocks body or spins self in circles. Is hyperactive and may appear clumsy

Difficulty attending

Has short attention span difficulty attending and engaging with books.

Repeating words or phrases

Repeats words and phrases but not in the appropriate context. (echolalia)

Has more temper tantrums than a typical toddler

Causes self harm such as banging head. Has tantrums when transitioning from one activity to the next. Has aggression towards others. May get upset with the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel.

Does my child have autism?

If you are concerned about your child, below is a free, validated screening tool that assesses your child’s risk for ASD.The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R) is a screener that will ask a series of 20 questions about your child’s behavior. It’s intended for toddlers between 16 and 30 months of age. The results will let you know if a further evaluation may be needed.

Early intervention is the key to your child’s succcess.

Levels of Autism

There are three levels of ASD, which are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

Level 1:

Requires Support

ASD is the mildest, or the most “high-functioning,” form of autism. Children with level 1 ASD have a hard time communicating appropriately with others. For example, they may not say the right thing at the right time or be able to read social cues and body language.

A person with ASD level 1 usually is able to speak in full sentences and communicate, but has trouble engaging in back-and-forth conversation with others. They may try to make friends, but not be very successful.

They may also have trouble moving from one activity to another or trying new things. Additionally, they may have problems with organization and planning, which may prevent them from being as independent as other people their age.

Level 2:

Requires Substantial Support

People with ASD level 2 will have more obvious problems with verbal and social communication than those diagnosed with level 1. Likewise, they will find it harder to change focus or move from one activity to the next.

Children with level 2 tend to have very narrow interests and engage in repetitive behaviors that can make it difficult for them to function in certain situations. For example, they may pace back and forth or say the same thing over and over again.

A person diagnosed with ASD level 2 tends to speak in simple sentences and also struggles with nonverbal forms of communication.

Level 3:

Requires Very Substantial Support

Level 3 is the most severe form of autism. Children in this category will have many of the same behaviors as those with levels 1 and 2, but to a more extreme degree.

Problems expressing themselves both verbally and nonverbally can make it very hard to function, interact socially, and deal with a change in focus or location. Engaging in repetitive behaviors is another symptom of level 3 ASD.

A person with ASD level 3 will have a very limited ability to speak clearly and will rarely start interactions with other people. When they do, they will do so awkwardly. Someone with level 3 will also respond only to very direct social approaches from other people.

Limitations of ASD Levels

There are three levels of ASD, which are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

For example, some people with ASD need support at school but are fine at home, while others may do well at school but struggle in social situations.

Assigning people to one of the three levels of autism can be useful for understanding what types of services and supports would serve them best. It won’t, however, predict or account for unique details in their personality and behavior, which means the support and services they receive will need to be highly individualized.

The ASD Video Glossary is a free web-based tool built to help families and professionals learn more about the early signs of autism. The Glossary contains more than 100 video clips illustrating the diagnostic features of ASD. Side-by-side video clips show behaviors that are typical in contrast with those that are red flags for autism.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four distinct autism diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

Autism may be underdiagnosed in women and girls due to an assumption that it is primarily a male condition. Autistic females have also been shown to engage in masking more frequently than autistic males. Masking may include making oneself perform normative facial expressions and eye contact.A notable percentage of autistic females may be misdiagnosed, diagnosed after a considerable delay, or not diagnosed at all.

There is no current cure for autism, however, early and intensive intervention can help children develop skills necessary to progress to typical school settings. There is strong evidence that many children with autism are actually able to learn as much as typically developing children, given the right environment.

Every child with autism faces unique challenges and every family affected by autism needs reliable support and expert guidance. With early intensive behavioural intervention, children with autism and their families can meet autism’s challenges and reach their maximum potential.

Are you an adult or teen?

Do you suspect that your feelings and behaviors involve autism? Many people who have autism with lower support needs go undiagnosed until adulthood. Find out more in our guide: “Is it Autism and If So, What Next?”