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"Dr Alan*, I was skeptical but we found you book so useful. I simply couldn't put it down. We noticed a difference after only a few days"

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* I am NOT and never claim to be a doctor but have left comment as received - Alan


What is Autism?

A general introduction

Autism is a life-long developmental disability which affects how a person communicates & relates to other people. Autism is usually diagnosed at a very young age, say, when a child is 18 months to four years of age.

Autism is one of five disorders which fall into the category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (or PDD for short). PDD neurological disorders are often defined as sufferers having "severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development".

The Autistic Spectrum

Because it affects different people in differently ways, autism is known as a spectrum disorder, you will often hear it referred to as the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

You may also encounter different terms used to describe children within this spectrum, such as autistic-like, autistic tendencies, autism spectrum, high-functioning or low-functioning autism, more-abled or less-abled.

More important than the term used to describe autism is understanding that, whatever the diagnosis, children with autism can learn and function normally and show improvement with appropriate treatment and education.

Research indicates, however, that early intervention in an appropriate educational setting for at least two years during the preschool years can result in significant improvements for many young children with autism spectrum disorders.

For some, these treatments have proven to be very successful, helping kids on the spectrum lead a full and active life.

Although the characteristics of autism are generally evident in the first few years of life, the condition can go undetected for many years especially in those who are at the more able end of the spectrum where the signs are more subtle.

Sometimes it may be necessary for a child to be referred to a specialist centre for assessment as local professionals will not always be familiar with the spectrum of autistic conditions.

Parents of Autistic Children

Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child or their child's failure to reach appropriate developmental milestones and are especially sensitive to picking up autism symptoms in a younger sibling.

Given the difficulties which sometime arise in diagnosing autism, parents can help by telling the doctor how the child acts at home. Remember, every child is different and some autistic children appear normal until quite late in their development.

Symptoms of Autism

Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe. Not everybody with autism has the exact same symptoms. Autism can be difficult to diagnose as it is a complex condition and symptoms are variable.

One of the reasons that autism is sometimes hard to diagnose is because the symptoms are so varied. Children do not "outgrow" autism but symptoms may lessen as the child develops and receives treatment. Autism is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than one single symptom.

Sample symptoms include lack of social or emotional reciprocity, stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language, and persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.

Common symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome, for example, include social problems, vulnerability to sensory overload, awkward posture, and a tendency to take many figures of speech literally.

Research into Autism

The exact cause or causes of autism are still not known but research shows that genetic factors are important. Research suggests that it's probably a combination of genes that causes the disorder, not a single autism gene.

New research shows that children as young as one may exhibit signs of autism, so recognizing early signs and knowing developmental milestones is important. The application of new techniques in autism research is being proposed, including the investigation of abnormal regulation of gene expression, proteomics, and the use of MRI and postmortem analysis of the brain.

Vaccines and Autism

Though the debate over the role that vaccines play in causing autism grows more heated every day, researchers have still not found a definitive link between the two. However, no research has ever proved a link, and the overwhelming majority of experts believe the vaccine is safe.

Large-scale independent investigations on the possible link between live virus vaccines, MMR, and autism should be undertaken.

Autism and Language Skills

Language and hearing impairments can also be confused with autism. Many children with autism can develop good functional language and others can develop some type of communication skills, such as sign language or use of pictures.

Some people with the condition may have an absence of language skills while others go on to earn college degrees.

Autism and Behavior

Behavioral therapy is aimed at teaching these children how to learn. Autism is not treated with surgery or medicine (although some people with autism may take medicine to improve certain symptoms, like aggressive behavior or attention problems).

Many professionals feel that some of the typical autism behaviors, like the ones listed above, are actually a result of sensory integration difficulties. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviors which are markedly different from those of typical children.