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Autism: 10 Basic Facts You MOST Need To Know

Autism is a hot topic these days. It seems everyone knows SOMEONE who is affected by the disorder. But what is autism, anyway?  Today we’re fortunate in that Laura Shumaker has agreed to share with us some of her own expertise in helping to explain more about autism and to help shed some light on some of the bigger misconceptions that are currently out there regarding Autism.

Here are 10 BASIC facts you need to know:

1)      Autism is a neurological disorder; not a disease. It is a broad spectrum disorder, meaning that people with autism can be a little autistic or very autistic. Thus, it is possible to be bright, verbal, and autistic as well as mentally retarded, non-verbal and autistic.

2)      All individuals with autism spectrum disorders share deficits to some degree in three areas: social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests. In addition, many have unusual responses to sensory experiences, such as certain sounds or the way objects look.

3)      No one is sure what causes autism. Theories range from mercury in infant vaccines (NOT TRUE!! ) to genetics to the age of the parents to almost everything else. At present, most researchers think autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors – and it’s quite possible that different people’s symptoms have different causes.

4)      The doctor who first came up with the idea that vaccines cause autism has been formally discredited (see this story). There is NO solid evidence based studies that indicate that vaccines cause autism.

5)      Many think that individuals with autism are all alike. Nothing could be further from the truth! “They” are not all alike. Individuals with autism have unique challenges, quirks, and interests. People with autism can be hard to figure out. Don’t be afraid to ask their parents or caretakers questions.

6)      There is no cure for autism as yet, but autism is treatable, and it important for parents to get a diagnosis as early as possible.

7)      Early intervention treatment programs have helped young children have better outcomes as they grow older, but treatment should continue through the lifespan! At any age, individuals with autism can progress.

8)      Scientists would like to find out what causes autism, how to treat it and how to cure it! Some of the most exciting research has to do with the genetics of autism and the impact of the environment and immunology of autism cases. Follow this link to learn about the research at the MIND Institute at UC Davis.

9)      Autism Spectrum Disorders generally fall into the categories bellow::

  • Autistic disorder. This is what most people think of when they hear the word “autism.” It refers to problems with social interactions, communication, and imaginative play in children younger than 3 years.
  • Asperger syndrome. These children don’t have a problem with language — in fact, they tend to score in the average or above-average range on intelligence tests. But they have the same social problems and limited scope of interests as children with autistic disorder.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder or PDD — also known as atypical autism. This is a kind of catchall category for children who have some autistic problems but who don’t fit into other categories.
  • Rett syndrome. Known to occur only in girls, children with Rett syndrome begin to develop normally. Then they begin to lose their communication and social skills.  Beginning at the age of 1 to 4 years, repetitive hand movements replace purposeful use of the hands.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder. These children develop normally for at least two years, and then lose some or most of their communication and social skills.

10)  While no two individuals with autism behave in the same manner, most are socially awkward (or in MY son’s case-socially inept!). The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction.  A child’s primary caregivers are usually the first to notice signs of ASD.  As early as infancy, a baby with ASD may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time.  A child with ASD may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.

If you want to know more about an individual with autism in your life, their parents would be more than happy to answer your questions. Just ask!

Laura Shumaker is the author of  A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism, a memoir about raising her autistic son, Matthew, to young adulthood. She is a regular contributor to NPR Perspectives and a columnist for and an autism bloggers for the San Francisco Chronicle. Laura’s essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Contra Costa Times, the East Bay MonthlyThe Autism Advocate, on, A Cup of Comfort, and Voices of Autism among others. Laura speaks regularly to schools, book and disability groups and lives in Lafayette, California with her husband, Peter, and her three sons.

Posted on Friday, February 26th, 2010 Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Autism: 10 Basic Facts You MOST Need To Know”

  1. Bridget Allen says:

    Dear Ms.Shumaker,

    The medical community’s consensus is that one cause of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), Transverse Myelitis and Guillain-Barre is vaccination. These are all diseases of the central nervous system. What makes these different from autism is that they are temporary and most individuals fully recover. Therefore there is less risk to medical community for admitting this.

    Also, when it comes to all of these studies, why is it that the public is not allowed to speak to the participants. Yeah, yeah, I know confidentiality, HIPPA laws, etc…how convenient. How about requiring participants to sign before hand that are NOT allowed to remain anonymous once the study is done? Would any researchers go for that?

    Are we really expected to take these researchers on their word? Do they just “Cross my Heart and Hope to Die, Stick a Needle in my eye?” and give a “Scout’s Honor”?

    Please read further:

    Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is a condition characterized by inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, often following an illness or immunization. The onset of symptoms is usually abrupt, and often includes changes in alertness or awareness in addition to symptoms which may suggest multiple sclerosis.

    In contrast to multiple sclerosis, symptoms usually develop at a younger age, and seizures are more likely to occur. A complete examination in addition to a number of diagnostic procedures is needed to differentiate ADEM from other conditions. Hospitalization is usually required for diagnosis and treatment. Treatment consists of medication given intravenously. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, most people recover fully.

    Transverse Myelitis is a condition in which there is inflammation of the spinal cord. Symptoms often include weakness and/or numbness of the legs (and sometimes the trunk and arms) and difficulty emptying or controlling the bladder.

    Transverse myelitis may be triggered by an infection or vaccination, or may occur without an obvious cause. It may also occur in people with multiple sclerosis. Symptoms usually worsen over days, followed by gradual recovery over several weeks. The diagnosis is made based on the symptoms and a detailed examination.

    What causes GBS?

    Scientists do not fully understand what causes GBS, but it is believed that stimulation of the body’s immune system may play a role in its development. Here’s what scientists know for sure: About two-thirds of people who develop GBS symptoms do so several days or weeks after they have been sick with a diarrhea or respiratory illness. Infection with the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common risk factors for GBS. People can also develop GBS after having the flu or other infections (such as cytomegalovirus and Epstein Barr virus). On very rare occasions, they may develop GBS in the days or weeks following receiving a vaccination.

    Notice how immunization is admittedly one of the causes? Please research it for yourself so you know I haven’t made this up.

    Thank You,

    Bridget Allen