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Myth Of Sudden Autistic Regression

Raising Children with Autism: A Lifetime of Care

Autistic burnout is sometimes called autistic regression, especially when referring to infants and toddlers. An estimated 30% of autistic toddlers will experience regression, likely because their brains are developing so rapidly and are thus under a lot of strain. Some people have mistakenly blamed vaccines for causing regression in toddlers. However, regression often begins in the first year of life, before the child is given vaccines.

Multiple studies show children often exhibit signs of autistic burnout long before the parents first notice them. For example, an infant might show signs of social regression, such as a lack of eye contact. The parents might not notice these signs because they are intermittent or subtle. Often the parents dont realize there is cause for concern until the child shows difficulties with language. The symptoms of burnout may seem sudden to parents, but they are actually part of a gradual progression.

Toddlers who experience autistic burnout are more likely to have a co-occurring intellectual disability. However, people who experience burnout in early childhood can also grow up to have average or even exceptional IQs. Just because a child has had a disruption in their development does not mean they have lost these skills forever.

Stress And The Autism Parent

Most parents experience stress, but for those raising children with autism, everyday life often brings Stress with a capital S. They need to keep their child from running away, manage meltdowns, wrangle with teachers about special education needs, avoid sights or sounds that overload his senses, and drive to therapists or doctors. And that’s just what Monday looks like. They do all this while sleep-deprived. Many children with autism simply don’t sleep well,1 so neither do mom and dad.

And those stresses don’t necessarily end on a child’s 18th or 21st birthday. Just ask Marilyn Cox of Missouri. “I can’t say the stress is any less now than it was when my son was 3 years old,” she sighs. That was four decades ago. Her son is 47, works, and lives at home.

Researchers have taken notice. More than a few studies report that parents of children with autism experience more stress than parents of typical-developing children,2-4 and parents of children with Down Syndrome.3,5

Simply put, too much stress is bad for parents’ health. One research article summed it up: “Chronic stressors can wear down the body, particularly the cardiovascular, immune, and gastrointestinal systems.”2 Highly-stressed parents also experience more mental health problems, including depression6,7 and anxiety.8

Key Points About Autism Spectrum Disorder In Children

  • Autism spectrum disorder is a problem that affects a childs nervous system and growth and development.

  • A child with ASD often has problems communicating. He or she may have trouble developing social skills.

  • Genes may play a role in ASD.

  • All children should be screened for ASD before age 2.

  • Diagnosis may include imaging and genetic tests.

  • Children with ASD need a special treatment plan. It may include programs that change behavior and teach social skills.

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What Role Do Genes Play

Twin and family studies strongly suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition to autism. Identical twin studies show that if one twin is affected, then the other will be affected between 36 to 95 percent of the time. There are a number of studies in progress to determine the specific genetic factors associated with the development of ASD. In families with one child with ASD, the risk of having a second child with the disorder also increases. Many of the genes found to be associated with autism are involved in the function of the chemical connections between brain neurons . Researchers are looking for clues about which genes contribute to increased susceptibility. In some cases, parents and other relatives of a child with ASD show mild impairments in social communication skills or engage in repetitive behaviors. Evidence also suggests that emotional disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia occur more frequently than average in the families of people with ASD.

Recovering From Autistic Burnout

Unraveling autism

There is limited research on recovery from autistic burnout. An autistic persons abilities will often come back, but some skills may take longer to return than others. Some skills may not return to the level they were at before.

A persons prognosis depends on a lot of factors. For example, a teenager who experiences burnout due to a temporary stressor may have briefer, milder symptoms than a middle-aged person who has forced themself to mask for over 30 years. People who push themselves to the point of burnout year after year are likely to have more severe skill loss than those who have a one-time episode and get immediate support.

If you are a caregiver of an autistic child, it is highly recommended that you visit a child psychologist. Early therapeutic interventions can improve a childs long-term abilities to communicate and cope with stress. A mental health professional can also help you create a home environment that matches your childs sensory needs. You may also wish to see a family therapist to discuss any concerns you may have about the future.

If you are an adult experiencing autistic burnout, you may benefit from individual therapy. A therapist can help you advocate for your needs with coworkers, friends, and family members. A therapist can also teach you meditation and other coping skills for stress. If you have clinical anxiety or depression , therapy can treat those diagnoses.


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Autism Runs In Families With History Of Brain Conditions

by Nicholette Zeliadt / 15 April 2019

Family ties:

Children in families with a history of brain conditions are at increased odds of being autistic, a large study in Sweden suggests1. The more closely related the family members with these conditions, the greater the childs chances of having autism.

Other studies have reported similar trends: A childs odds of having autism increase if she has a sibling with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or intellectual disability, or a parent with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety2,3,4.

The new study looked at family history of these conditions, as well as epilepsy and more than a dozen others, and included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

In autism studies, scientists tend to focus on older siblings, but many people with autism dont have an older sibling with autism, says lead investigator Brian Lee, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Family history, in nearly every aspect of medicine, is an incredibly strong determinant of outcome.

Lee and his colleagues examined records from 10,920 children with autism and 556,516 typical children enrolled in the Stockholm Youth Cohort, an ongoing study of children born in that city. The researchers used national registries to identify the childrens more than 8 million relatives and those relatives diagnoses.

What Is Autistic Burnout

Autistic burnout can happen at any age, but it usually occurs at major transition points in life, such as toddlerhood, puberty, or young adulthood. Any period in which a person experiences lots of changes or stress can prompt an episode of burnout.

Very young children with burnout often lose language skills. Some children may forget a chunk of their vocabulary but still retain a few words. Others may stop making sound entirely and resort to physical gestures to communicate. Autistic children may also quit early social behaviors such as responding to their own name or looking at caregivers faces.

Older autistic people are able to communicate their experiences with burnout in a way toddlers cant. Adults have reported symptoms such as:

  • Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as fluorescent lights or scratchy clothing. The person may need to stim more often to compensate.
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion. This can keep people from engaging in self-care tasks such as meal preparation.
  • Difficulty making decisions, switching between tasks, and other executive functioning skills.
  • Speech issues: these can range from forgetting words to being unable to speak at all.
  • Reduced social skills. As an individuals cognitive resources are stretched thin, they may display more stereotypical autistic body language or speech patterns.
  • General memory issues.

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Is Genetic Testing For Autism Reliable

The short version is not always. Genetic testing cannot diagnose or detect autism as over 100 genes can be linked to autism, but no single instance is repeatable among those who have it. What it can do is help identify markers or concerns, and it can help autism research. These markers, when identified between siblings or parent and child, can help future researchers know what to look for and can help concerned caregivers have an explanation of the condition, but not a direct cause.

Genetic testing is evolving and changing rapidly, and in the future we may discover a solid connection between genetics and DNA. For now, we only know they are connected somehow.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Previously Called Autism And Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Parallel Paths: Our Life With Autism

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by the following:

  • Difficulties in social communication differences, including verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Deficits in social interactions.
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities and sensory problems

Many of those with ASD can have delayed or absence of language development, intellectual disabilities, poor motor coordination and attention weaknesses.

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What Is The Difference Between Autism And Autism Spectrum Disorder

The term autism was changed to autism spectrum disorder in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association. ASD is now an umbrella term that covers the following conditions:

  • Autistic disorder.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified .
  • Asperger syndrome.

People with ASD have trouble with social interactions and with interpreting and using non-verbal and verbal communication in social contexts. Individuals with ASD may also have the following difficulties:

  • Inflexible interests.
  • Insistence on sameness in environment or routine.
  • Repetitive motor and sensory behaviors, like flapping arms or rocking.
  • Increased or decreased reactions to sensory stimuli.

How well someone with ASD can function in day-to-day life depends on the severity of their symptoms. Given that autism varies widely in severity and everyday impairment, the symptoms of some people arent always easily recognized.

How Is Asd Diagnosed In A Child

No single medical test can diagnose ASD. Healthcare providers use certain guidelines to help diagnose ASD in children before age 2. The guidelines can help diagnose the disorder early. Children diagnosed with ASD early can be treated right away.

The guidelines say that all children should be screened for ASD and other development disorders before age 2. The screening is done at well-child checkups. Children who have symptoms of development or behavior disorders will need to get more testing for ASD.

Healthcare providers look for the following problems during well-child visits before age 2:

  • No babbling, pointing, or gesturing by age 12 months

  • No single words spoken by age 16 months

  • No 2-word phrases by age 24 months, just repeating words or sounds of others

  • Loss of any language or social skills at any age

  • No eye contact at 3 to 4 months

If a child has any of the above problems, the healthcare provider will do more screening. This will help show if your child has ASD or another developmental disorder. Your child may need to see a healthcare provider with special training to diagnose and treat ASD. Your child may also need these screening tests:

  • Nervous system exam

  • Genetic tests to look for gene problems that cause ASD or other developmental disorders

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Autism Risk Estimated At 3 To 5% For Children Whose Parents Have A Sibling With Autism

NIH-funded study is first population-wide estimate of autism risk of children whose aunts or uncles have the condition.

Roughly 3 to 5% of children with an aunt or uncle with autism spectrum disorder can also be expected to have ASD, compared to about 1.5% of children in the general population, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Researchers also found that a child whose mother has a sibling with ASD is not significantly more likely to be affected by ASD, compared to a child whose father has a sibling with ASD. The findings call into question the female protective effect, a theory that females have a lower rate of ASD than males because they have greater tolerance of ASD risk factors.

The results, derived from records of nearly 850,000 Swedish children and their families, appear in Biological Psychiatry. The study was conducted by John N. Constantino, M.D., at Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues in the United States and Sweden.

The results offer important new information for counseling people who have a sibling with ASD, said Alice Kau, Ph.D., of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch of NIHs Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development , which funded the study. The findings also suggest that the greater prevalence of ASD in males is likely not due to a female protective effect.

Additional NIH funding was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.

What Is The Outlook For People With Autism Spectrum Disorder

An expert shares the early autism warning signs parents ...

In many cases, the symptoms of ASD become less pronounced as a child gets older. Parents of children with ASD may need to be flexible and ready to adjust treatment as needed for their child.

People with ASD may go on to live typical lives, but there is often need for continued services and support as they age. The needs depend on the severity of the symptoms. For most, it’s a lifelong condition that may require ongoing supports.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Through research, there has been much that has been learned about autism spectrum disorder over the past 20 years. There is ongoing active research on the causes of ASD, early detection and diagnosis, prevention and treatments.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/29/2020.


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How Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosed

There are no laboratory tests to determine ASD. However, certain healthcare providers receive specific training and can do screenings and evaluations if needed and who might ask parents or teachers to record observations. These providers might include specialized physicians, psychologists and speech-language pathologists.

Are Siblings At Greater Risk For Autism Spectrum Disorder

The truth is that genetics do play a role in autism. When one child is diagnosed with ASD, the next child to come along has about a 20% greater risk of developing autism than normal. When the first two children in a family have both been diagnosed with ASD, the third child has about a 32% greater risk of developing ASD.

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An Early Arrival An Early Diagnosis

Cindy Yeager’s twins, a boy and girl, arrived early, as twins often do. She credits a friend, an occupational therapist, with pushing her to enroll them in Maryland’s program for infants and toddlers with developmental delays. A teacher in that program noticed that her son, Aaron, flapped his hands, a behavior often seen in autism.

That led to appointments with a child psychiatrist, who diagnosed both with autism. Mrs. Yeager got the news on the same day. She took it in stride. “It wasnt a shock because we knew something was wrong,” she said. And it offered hope: “When you get the correct diagnosis, you get the correct services. Now their teachers knew what to do.”

Fraternal twins are more likely to both have autism than siblings who are not twins. Scientists theorize that may because they share the same prenatal environment. Identical twins, who have the same genes, have the highest rate of both having autism 88 percent among all siblings.6

Although both Yeager twins received autism therapies and early intervention services, they travelled different paths, as siblings with ASD often do.

Hayley began talking at age 4, and entered a regular kindergarten class at 5, with a special education plan. Aaron did not develop speech, and he enrolled in an intensive program at a different school. For the Yeagers, that meant attending special education meetings and getting to know teachers and therapists at separate schools.

It Won’t Always Be Like This

Signs of Autism

“During the hardest times, when my son wasnt sleeping or eating or when he melted down over lights and sounds, I wish I knew it wouldnt always be like this. I wish someone would have told me that the child I have now will grow and change and regress and thrive. You will feel frozen in time at different points. Know that it will get better. And harder. It will change.”

Kate Swenson, Cottage Grove, Minnesota

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Do Autistic Parents Have Autistic Children

This would be a highly unusual situation to begin with. Although high functioning children with autism or Aspergers can grow to adulthood and lead fairly normal lives, their social limitations makes it difficult to find a mate, but not impossible. In the event that two adults with autism were to marry and have children, well, there really arent any statistics out on that subject at the moment.

As to whether or not autistic parents have autistic children, that is also difficult to answer because there does seem to be some genetic link. Enough research has not been completed to prove or deny that autism does have a genetic link, and therein lays the problem. It would seem that children born to parents with autism would have an increased rate of developing the disorder, but without proof that autism is genetic, no one can say for sure.

A recent Dateline segment featured one such couple, and they were quite happy. He had the autism and only found out after a child of theirs was diagnosed, suggesting the link. She always knew there was something particularly different about him but didnt mind. It all worked out for them, and provided a case study for geneticists to look at at the same time.

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