What is autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects brain development.  Individuals with autism have difficulties in social interaction, language and communication, and self-stimulatory and repetitive behaviors.  Most of these challenges come from an underlying inability to take in the world through the senses and to use the body and thoughts to respond to that input.  As autism is complex, there are many areas to learn about in order to identify an individual child’s needs and interventions.  These may include sensory processing, speech and language, social skills.  Learn more in our “Resources for Families” (Link to: Resources for Families).

How did my child develop autism?

No one knows for sure.  However, current research studies suggest a strong genetic basis for autism with as many as 20 sets of genes possibly playing a part in its development.  However, genetics alone cannot account for many of the cases, so environmental origins and triggers are being explored as well.

How can I tell if a child has autism?

Although no two children are alike there are symptoms that many children share that can be identified before the age of three.  Generally, children with autism struggle to relate to others.  They may hardly speak or struggle to communicate in ways that are easily understood.  Often they don’t make or sustain eye contact and have trouble reading intense and cues in social situations.  They may have repetitive behaviors such as flapping their hands or repeating the same phrase over and over.  They may also be sensitive to different types of sensory input.

How do I know if my child has problems with sensory processing?

Many children with autism struggle with over sensitivity to certain stimuli.  Your child may cover their ears frequently, which may be an indicator of sensitivity to noise.  A child who flaps things in front of their eyes is likely to have visual sensitivity challenges.  Often tantrums and bad behavior come from sensory overload.  Many times, children seek out sensory information more than the typical child.  They may smash into the couch for fun or hang upside down as often as possible as a way of helping their brain better process sensory information.

What is the difference between PDD and autism?

Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) is an umbrella of disorders that affect communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviors.  It is not a diagnosis, but more of a category.  Autism Spectrum Disorders (autism and Asperger’s symdrome), childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett’s disease, and PDD NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified) fall under the PDD umbrella.

What should I do if I suspect my child has autism?

As early intervention is key for a child with autism, don’t wait!  Ask your doctor about getting your child screened for autism.  Recognizing early signs and knowing developmental milestones will help you in determine what intervention is needed.

What benefit is there to getting a diagnosis?

A diagnosis should provide important information about your child that will help in guiding treatment and intervention.  It may help provide a child with services through school systems or early intervention programs and may provide access to greater information or support.

What help will my child need?

Although every child is different, most children benefit from a team of providers.  This may include doctors, therapists, psychologists and teachers who understand and have experience with autism.  You can ask your pediatrician for recommendations regarding intervention programs, complementary therapies and networks of parents facing the same challenges.

Why is early intervention important?

Scientific studies have shown that prognosis is greatly improved if a child is placed into an effective early intervention program.  By being engaged for a large part of the day and by working on sensory processing problems, a child can make brain connections and begin to develop skills much more quickly.  A good teacher or therapist will tailor teaching to the individual child and know how to help a child grow and experience new things.

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