About Autism

What is commonly referred to as “Autism” includes five disorders now often called “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD).

The five are:

  • Autism
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder (not otherwise specified)
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Asperger’s Syndrome

Autism is a brain difference that can affect an individual’s ability to: communicate, relate to people and the environment in typical ways, understand and respond to sensory input (e.g. pain, touch, sound, taste), control movement, and learn and think in typical ways. The effects on learning and functioning can range from mild to severe. Even in its milder forms, functioning in sociali­zation and communication can be very impaired.

Autism occurs in as many as 1 in 68 births nationally (Center for Disease Control).  It is four times more common in males than females.  Autism is found throughout the world in families of all racial, social, econo­mic, and ethnic backgrounds.  There are as many as 1.5 million people with Autism in the United States, and as many as 4,800 in Western Mass­achusetts.  Recent estimates place the number of children from 3 to 18 alone at more than 1,100.

Although the causes of Autism are still unknown, research suggests that there is a strong genetic component with a variety of external and environmental triggers.  No factors in the psychol­ogical environment of the child cause Autism.

There is great diversity among individuals with Autism.  They vary in the extent to which they display the char­acteris­tics of Autism. Characteristics include:

  • difficulty relating to people, ob­jects and events
  • repetitive movements such as rocking or spinning, head banging and hand twisting
  • atypical reactions to sensory stimuli e.g. touch, sound, taste, pain
  • insistence on certain routines
  • difficulty with change and transitions
  • limited or poor eye contact
  • impaired communication skills
  • use of toys and objects in an unconventional manner, little imaginative play
  • may have typical or exceptional abilities in specific areas (e.g. putting puzzles to­gether) but lack other basic skills (e.g. can’t follow directions)

Most specialists agree that a child should be evaluated for Autism immediately if he or she has:

  • not babbled or cooed by one year
  • not gestured, pointed or waved by one year
  • not spoken a single word by 16 months
  • not spoken a two-word phrase by two years
  • experiences a loss of any language skills at any age

Research and experience indi­cate the following:

  • Early diagnosis and appropriate in­tervention are most helpful in the future development of children and adults with Autism, but help at any age may make a significant difference.  There are many ex­amples of adults who live quite typical lives who had se­vere difficulties as children and adults.
  • Services and support must be tailor­ed to the needs of the in­dividual child and be delivered in a con­sistent, comprehensive, and coor­dinated fashion.
  • The inclusion of children and adults with Autism with typical peers in all activities using appropriate supports is beneficial to all.
  • Many people with Autism respond best to structured, in­dividualized educational programs.  Programs using positive approaches based on a careful analysis of context, functions of behaviors, individual learning styles and information processing irregularities, have produced effective and durable re­sults in teaching new skills and changing many of the behaviors typically displayed by children and adults with Autism.  In addition, sensory in­tegration, social skills training, dietary changes, vitamins, medications, and other interventions have also been used with suc­cess in some instances to address specific issues.