Autism at a Glance

Autism at a Glance

by Lindsay Cote

In the past decade there has been a huge increase in public awareness of autism. While this growth in general knowledge about autism is long overdue, it has coincided with the spread of much misinformation about this developmental disorder, as well, leading to further stigma and confusion. Below, I answer common questions about autism.

What is autism? 

Autism is a lifelong disability that affects development in areas such as communication, social skills, and the way one interacts with the environment. It is important to remember that children with autism can be very different in the ways that autism affects their lives and in their levels of disability.

What causes autism? 

The short answer to this question is that we don't know yet. Based on the most recent scientific research, there is significant evidence to suggest that genes play a role. However, we do know that neither vaccines nor the way a child is raised by his or her parents cause autism, despite the persistence of these myths.

What does autism look like? 

Children with autism often find it difficult to understand and follow social rules, such as turn-taking during a conversation or making eye contact. They may have repetitive behaviours such as flapping or spinning and can be very sensitive to sounds, smells, and touch. Some people with autism have intellectual disabilities or difficulties with speech, although many do not. Children with autism can have difficulties with behaviour and anxiety. Often, they can become fixated on certain objects or subjects, and may become very distressed with changes to their routines or expectations.

How is autism treated? 

There is no cure for autism. However, early diagnosis and intervention is important in order to meet the child's needs and to build his or her skills. Treatment may include behaviour management, social skills training, speech therapy, psychotherapy for anxiety or mood difficulties, medication, and/or occupational therapy.

Should I be worried? 

Speak to your GP and seek a referral to a paediatrician if you are concerned about your child's behaviour or development. Indicators of autism may include: no babbling or gesturing by 12 months, no single words by 16 months, no two-word phrases by 24 months, poor eye contact, a child “appearing as if in his or her own world”, or a sudden, unexplained decline in language or social skills at any age.

Always remember: People with autism experience the same emotions as we all do and want the same things for their lives - to have joy and meaning, including close relationships with others. Every person with autism is different, so it is important not to make assumptions but to treat all individuals with respect and dignity.