Autism is a complex, neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact socially. It typically manifests itself in the first three years of life and remains a life-long disability for those diagnosed with autism and a life-changing challenge for the parents and families who provide them love and support. Autism knows no social, economic, geo-graphic, or ethnic bounds and is classified as a spectrum disorder encompassing classic autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Delay-Not Otherwise Specified.
You’ll hear a number of theories, some with some very vocal adherents, but the short answer is that we don’t really know. Scientists strongly suspect a genetic cause, or perhaps a genetic predisposition triggered by something that happens later in development or after birth in terms of environmental factors. This lack of clarity about the cause contributes to considerable speculation among parents and scientists and conflicting theories about the cause or causes of autism.
Autism is found in all cultures and across all socio-economic groups and affects boys more than girls by a ratio of 4 to 1. In the past 30 years the prevalence rate of autism has skyrocketed. Recent estimates indicate that the disorder occurs in 1 out of every 68 children born, highlighting the facts that autism is not rare and that the importance of effective intervention is critical on a personal, familial and societal level.
With the documented benefits of early intervention for learners with autism, the earlier the diagnosis can be made, the better. As there is no genetic or medical test for autism, clinicians rely on behavioral observation, generally quantified through the use of a standardized diagnostic scale, to arrive at the diagnosis. In general, diagnosis is a two step process: 1) screening, and 2) a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.
For most parents, the diagnosis of autism is an emotionally challenging and life-changing event. You may feel shocked or overwhelmed by your child’s diagnosis. It is natural and understandable for you to feel this way. At the same time, you need to know that through informed action and the use of appropriate treatments and interventions, you can enhance the quality of your child’s life. Two points of general consensus relative to autism are that intervention should begin as soon as possible after diagnosis and that the earlier the intervention, the greater its potential for the child to lead a fuller, more complete life.