What is Autism?

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Autism is sometimes also referred to as Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. All are associated with cognitive and neuro-behavioral impairments in socialization, verbal and nonverbal communication, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors.

Autistic spectrum disorders are more common in the pediatric population than cancer, diabetes, spina bifida, and Down syndrome. With improved clinical recognition the most recent prevalence rates are approximately 120 per 10,000 or just over one in every 100 people*. The overall ratio of males to females with autism has traditionally been reported at about 3:1 to 4:1. These numbers vary with IQ.

Symptoms of autism by definition always are present before age 3, but autism is often not diagnosed until 2 to 3 years of age or even later. Individuals with autism often remain undiagnosed or inaccurately diagnosed because many clinicians hesitate to discuss this possibility with parents of young children, even when some symptoms are present. These physicians are often concerned about family distress, the effects of labeling a child, the possibility of being wrong, or the hope that the symptoms will reverse or improve with time. We believe, though that the positive outcomes of an accurate diagnosis far outweigh the negative effects, and families appreciate being informed as early as possible.

There are many advantages of early diagnosis of autism, including earlier educational planning and treatment, provision for family supports and education, reduction of family stress and anguish, and delivery of appropriate medical care to the child.

Parental Concerns that are RED FLAGS for Autism

Communication Concerns

  • Does not respond to his or her name
  • Cannot tell me what (s)he wants
  • Language is delayed
  • Doesn’t follow directions
  • Appears deaf at times
  • Seems to hear sometimes but not others
  • Doesn’t point or wave bye-bye

Social Concerns

  • Doesn’t smile socially

  • Seems to prefer to play alone
  • Gets things for himself
  • Is very independent
  • Does things “early”
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Is in his own world
  • Tunes us out
  • Is not interested in other children

Behavioral Concerns

  • Tantrums

  • Is hyperactive/uncooperative or oppositional
  • Does not know how to play with toys
  • Gets stuck on thins over and over
  • Toe walks
  • Has unusual attachment to toys (e.g., always is holding a certain object)
  • Lines things up
  • Is oversensitive to certain textures or sounds
  • Has odd movement patterns

Absolute Indications for immediate further evaluation

  • No babbling by 12 months

  • No gesturing (pointing, waiving bye-bye, etc…) by 12 months
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No 2-word spontaneous (not just echolalic) phrases by 24 months
  • ANY loss of ANY Language or Social Skills at ANY age

*Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Chandler, S., Loucas, T., Meldrum, D., et al. (2006). Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP). Lancet 2006; 368:210-215