FAQ's about Autism:
Ten years ago, autism was considered a rare, lifelong condition that was
untreatable, incurable and hopeless. Through the commitment of
families, scientists, and the work of various organizations like Autism
Speaks, The National Autism Association, and The Autism Society of
America, we know today that autism is treatable, that we will one day
What is autism?
Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder of development that lasts
throughout a person’s lifetime. Because persons with autism exhibit
different symptoms or behaviors, ranging from mild to serious, autism is a
“spectrum” disorder, or a group of disorders with a range of similar
Children with autism have difficulty communicating and interacting with
others. Many individuals with autism seem to retreat into isolation , or
fixate on a word, an object, or an activity.
Sometimes symptoms are seen in infancy, while other children develop
normally for a year or more before they begin to slip into their own
private world. At best, a high functioning person with autism may simply
seem eccentric, a loner. At worst, a person with more profound autism
may never learn to speak or care for themselves.
You are never prepared for a child with autism. You will gradually come
to believe it, but never fully accept it, get used to it, or get over it. You put
away the hopes and dreams you had for that child - the high school
graduation, the June wedding. Small victories are cause for celebration -
a word mastered, a dry bed, a hug given freely.
How common is autism?
Autism is a national crisis. It is the fastest growing disability in the United
States. A child is diagnosed with autism every 21 minutes and it now
affects one in every 150 children nationwide. Arkansas has the 7th
highest rate of autism in the country. One in every 94 boys in this state
are diagnosed with autism.
More than a disorder, autism is a national crisis affecting at least one
million Americans and costing the country more than $90 billion annual.
As the rate of autism accelerates, we need to work together to effectively
confront the challenges of this national crisis.
What are common signs of autism?
Children affected by autism do not always experience the same
symptoms. The symptoms depend on the severity of the disorder. The
impact or manifestation of these behaviors can range from mild to
disabling. Early signs of autism are:
Loss or lack of speech around 18 months of age.
Little or no eye contact.
Loss or lack of gestures, such as pointing or waving.
Repetitive speech or actions.
Unusual reactions to the way things look, feel, smell, taste or sound.
How do I know if my child has autism?
A qualified professional, such as a developmental pediatrician or
pediatric neurologist, makes an autism diagnosis.
A professional may use a screening questionnaire to gather observations
from the child’s parents. If the screening indicates the possibility of
autism, a more comprehensive evaluation is often conducted by a
medical team that includes a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist,
speech therapist and other specialists.
How is autism treated?
Early Intervention: programs include educational programs and behavior
training programs that emphasize developing language and social skills.
Special Education: specialized education programs geared to maximize
the potential of each individual, taking into consideration their social
Family Support: counseling for parents and siblings of children with
autism is encouraged and often helpful to cope with the challenges of
living with an autistic family member.
Medication: pharmaceutical interventions are prescribed to help children
develop social and language skills.
Alternative Therapies: there also are a number of alternative therapies
available for children with autism. However, few have been supported by
scientific studies. Parents should research the providers and the
treatment before beginning a course of non-traditional therapy.
What causes autism?
At this time, scientists do not know exactly what causes autism. Because
no two people with autism are alike, autism is likely to be the result of
A number of research studies indicate a genetic link as the underlying
cause. Researchers are also examining possible neurological, infectious,
metabolic, environmental and immunologic factors.
Is autism genetic?
There is strong evidence of a genetic component in autism. In identical
twins, the chance of a twin developing autism if the other twin is autistic is
as high as 60%. The chance of a sibling or a fraternal twin developing
autism is 10-20% higher than in the general population.
Cure Autism Now created the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange
(AGRE). AGRE is a DNA bank of more than 647 families who have more
than one child with autism.
I have heard about a new therapy. How do I know if
it is safe for my child?
As the number of children with autism has increased, so have the types
of therapies being offered. There are both medical treatments and
alternative therapies to consider. For example, Applied Behavior Analysis
(ABA), focuses on the behavioral aspects of autism disorders. Others
deal with physiological aspects, like diet and sensory issues.
In terms of safety, it is best to seek the counsel of a medical professional
before attempting any type of treatment program, and to learn as much
as you can before committing to a course of treatment.
What services will my child need?
Because the characteristics and severity of autism vary from person to
person, there is no single guideline for treating or helping individual with
Some will be highly functional and need assistance finding a job or
attending college. Others may simply need help finding a roommate or
apartment. Individuals with more severe autism might require a group
What is the prognosis for people with autism?
Our hope is that research will reveal the causes and effective biological
treatments for autism, and that this information can be used to improve
the quality of life for all people afflicted with this disorder. For years,
parents were told there was no effective treatment for children with
autism. They were told to let go of dreams for their children and invest
only in the hope that future generations might benefit from researching
the causes and a cure for autism. Through hard work, more funding and
innovation of various organizations pursuing this goal, a cure is closer
than we thought - in time for this generation.
In terms of life span, barring additional health complications, people with
autism live as long as the average person. Quality of life depends on the
individual. Some people with high-functioning autism or Asperger's
Syndrome do marry, attend college, have successful careers and
participate in their communities. Other individuals with autism will require
lifelong care and guidance.
How can scientific research make a difference in our
In 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) devoted only $5 million of
its annual budget to biological research in autism. More recently, NIH
reported spending $100 million annually on autism research. Parents
from the organization Cure Autism Now, drafted legislation that became
the Children’s Health Act of 2000, and led the way to its successful
Recently, through the efforts of parents and organizations nationwide,
the Combating Autism Act was passed. This legislation committed an
unprecedented $860 million in federal funds to autism research, early
screening, intervention and education. It also provides funds to support
treatment and research facilities in the form of "Autism Centers of
Excellence" in several states. Parents must join together and continue
advocating with one voice for the needs of our children. We must press
on and work hard in a collaborative way to bring a brighter future to
those who are burdened with the challenges of autism today.
"The main signs and symptoms of autism involve language, social
behavior, and behaviors concerning objects and routines."
P. Filipeck, M.D.
Practice Parameters: Screening & Diagnosis of Autism