What Autistic People Have To Say
Through our Stories from the Spectrum series, weve spoken to several autistic people, who have shared their thoughts on this topic, what being autistic is like for them, and some of the positive aspects of being autistic.
“I just seem to see and think about people and the world in a different way. It’s part of who I am.” John Clark
John Clark, autistic filmmaker, told us:“I just seem to see and think about people and the world in a different way. For instance, I am both confused and fascinated by idioms. Its part of who I am. I used to be very self-conscious about people liking and accepting me, but now, I just think, take me or leave me. Were all different. Some people seem to find live and let live a difficult mantra to grasp though.”
Patrick Samuel, autistic artist and musician, said: “My autism makes it easy for me to do things a lot of non-autistic people may struggle with. I work intensely when Im painting, writing, composing or doing anything creative. I think being autistic also contributes to my aptitude in problem solving and pattern recognition, which can help me research a highly specialised subject and give talks on it.”
Rates Are On The Rise
An estimated 1 in 40 children in this country have autism to some degree, according to a recent study from Pediatrics based on 2016 data. That’s about 1.5 million children between the ages 3 to 17. Nationwide, autism strikes three to four times more boys than girls the rates are about the same for kids of all races.
Although there seems to be an autism epidemic, the Pediatrics study attributes the increasing prevalence to more inclusive reporting. The definition of autism has been expanded in the past decade to include a wider spectrum of problems with communication and social interaction. “Ten years ago, many children with mild autism were simply not diagnosed,” says Adrian Sandler, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Mission Children’s Hospital, in Asheville, North Carolina, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on children with disabilities. Plus, there are more state and federal programs for autistic kids, giving doctors an incentive to diagnose and refer them. However, there may be additional, unknown reasons for the spike in autism rates, and researchers are investigating everything from environmental toxins to viruses to food allergies.
Should You Reduce Your Exposure To Chemicals
There seems to be an increased risk for ASD associated with maternal exposure to certain chemicals during pregnancy, thought a lot more research needs to be done. For instance, one recent study found environmental exposures associated with autism, specifically “traffic-related pollutants, some metals, and several pesticides and phthalates.” It can get confusing to figure out exactly which chemicals, such as those found in flame-retardants, plastics, and even cosmetics, to avoid. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for youyou might want to limit your intake of canned foods, avoid water bottles made of plastic or aluminum, and stay away from personal care products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient.
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Restricted Or Repetitive Behaviors Or Interests
People with ASD have behaviors or interests that can seem unusual. These behaviors or interests set ASD apart from conditions defined by only problems with social communication and interaction.
Examples of restricted or repetitive interests and behaviors related to ASD can include:
- Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when order is changed
- Repeats words or phrases over and over
- Plays with toys the same way every time
- Is focused on parts of objects
- Gets upset by minor changes
- Has obsessive interests
- Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
- Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
What Are The Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with autism often show symptoms before they are two years old. Some children begin to lose language or social skills at the age of one or two. Autism looks different in each child. Not every child shows every symptom, and some have more severe symptoms.
Symptoms of ASD are grouped into two categories:
Social Communication and Social Interaction
- Doesnt like to cuddle or hug
- Likes to play alone
- Hasnt spoken a word by 18 months
- Cannot say two-word phrases by two years old
- Speaks differently than other children:
- Sounds like a robot when speaking
- Speaks in a very singsong way
- Repeats phrases or puts words in the wrong order
- Can recite information but not use it to solve problems or have a conversation
- Rarely or never makes eye contact
- Has trouble carrying on a conversation and letting the other person talk
- Repeats the same action over and over again
- Focuses on small details and nothing else
- Struggles with changes in their routine
- Puts toys in order instead of playing with them
- Gets extremely focused on specific topics or objects
Additionally, children with autism are often sensitive to sounds, lights, textures or smells. This is called asensory processing problem. For example, loud noises or bright lights can make them very uncomfortable. Or, they may need more sensations to feel comfortable, so they will try to bump into things or constantly touch or smell things.
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Other Signs And Symptoms Of Autism
A child with autism may also exhibit such signs and symptoms as:
- Impulsivity or acting without thinking
- Extreme anxiety and phobias, as well as unusual phobias
- Exhibits unusual interests and behaviors
- Loves to play with toys the same way each time
- Shows very active or hyperactive behavior
- Exhibits unusual eating and sleeping habits including sleep regression
- Exhibits strange moods or emotional reactions
- Shows a lack of fear or more fear than anticipated
- Loves to line up toys or other objects
- Exhibits a liking for specific parts of objects, such as the wheels of toy cars
Regressive Autism Why It Occurs
By Amy KD Tobik
Has your talkative, engaged, and very energetic child suddenly become quiet and uninterested? Does your child exhibit new, unusual habits? Have you noticed speech regression? If you answered yes, then he/she may have whats called regressive autism.
Based on data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , one in every 68 children in the US has autism, including regressive autism. The US federal government spends more than $238 billion a year to help families treat autism.
In this article, we will discuss some facts about regressive autism, its signs and symptoms, and possible treatments. Well also lay out the steps parents can take if they observe these signs in their children.
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Vikki Thinks Her Son Is Who He Is And Does Not Want To Think About Cause Or Blame
Another mother said:
Well I realised very quickly after I had the diagnosis for Joe, I didnt care what caused it. I didnt care at all. All I cared about was how was I going to get through the next day? How was he going to be the most he could be? And I thought he is clever he is not going to waste it.
For other parents, understanding cause was important.
GeneticsMany parents talked about genetic causes and described how their children were on the autism spectrum as a result of a genetic clash or how they could identify other family members who had spectrumy traits. Some parents were on the spectrum themselves or felt that one or other of their parents were on the spectrum. One mother said,
I dont know how much of this is in me or not, but I mean I know that I hate being in groups of people or going to parties with people I dont know and all the rest.
Doesn’t Respond To Your Call
Your child interacts with you and others and has normal play habits and sensory responses, but doesn’t respond to your voice when they have their back turned away from you. This may occur in children with autism along with many other symptoms that point to autism.
You may notice patterns of behavior such as those that involve a sensory processing disorder or a lasting and intense focus on objects or topics along with a lack of:
- babbling or use of words
- eye contact
If your child is simply not hearing you, there’s a good chance they are either very engaged in play or have some level of hearing loss. If you find that this is an ongoing issue, it is vital to bring up the issue with your child’s health care provider.
There may be no need to worry just yet that your child has autism.
How Does Your Health Come Into Play
Researchers know that maternal health during pregnancy has an impact on the unborn child, and ASD is certainly no exception to this rule. “For instance, women who are severely ill and require hospitalization during pregnancy may be more likely to have children who develop autism,” says Dr. Wang. Specifically, studies have shown associations between maternal infections during pregnancy and subsequent risk for their children developing an autism spectrum disorder.
In general, women should do what they can to remain healthy during pregnancy. “This includes optimizing nutrition, taking prenatal vitamins as recommended by their obstetrician, avoiding exposure to unnecessary drugs and medications, and ensuring that their own vaccinations are up to date,” says Dr. Wang. Also, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that gestational diabetes developed by 26 weeks is linked with an increased risk to ASD. Ask your doctor about the right plan for you and then stick with it.
Causes And Risk Factors
We do not know all of the causes of ASD. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASD. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.
- Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD.4, 19
- Children who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD. 5-10
- Individuals with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis, can have a greater chance of having ASD. 11-14, 20
- When taken during pregnancy, the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked with a higher risk of ASD.15-16
- There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth. 17
- Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD. 18
ASD continues to be an important public health concern. Like the many families living with ASD, CDC wants to find out what causes the disorder. Understanding the factors that make a person more likely to develop ASD will help us learn more about the causes. We are currently working on one of the largest U.S. studies to date, called Study to Explore Early Development . SEED is looking at many possible risk factors for ASD, including genetic, environmental, pregnancy, and behavioral factors.
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Asd Cannot Be Diagnosed Through Genetic Or Medical Testing
One of the first things to realize about the possible cause of ASD is that all of the causal models are theoretical.
For instance, while health professionals know that the presence of a sibling, parent, or close family member with autism can increase a childs relative risk, there is not a genetic test for ASD currently available. Further, one of the largest comprehensive studies of genetics in individuals with autism revealed a staggering 102 genes that could be associated with ASD.
Similarly, while research has observed brain structure differences in individuals with a sensory disorder a common co-occurring condition in those with autism a large-scale study of brain scans of pediatric ASD patients shows no unified pattern of abnormalities.
Studies like these reveal that the causes of ASD could be as complex and diverse as the people themselves. Parents should be aware of risk factors, but more importantly, they should focus on what needs to be done to meet the childs needs now that an ASD diagnosis has been established.
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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What Are The Types Of Autism Spectrum Disorders
These types were once thought to be separate conditions. Now, they fall under the range of autism spectrum disorders including:
- Asperger’s 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 social problems and a narrow scope of interests.
- Autistic disorder. This is what most people think of when they hear the word “autism.” It refers to problems with social interactions, communication, and play in children younger than 3 years.
- Childhood disintegrative disorder. These children have typical development for at least 2 years and then lose some or most of their communication and social skills.
- Pervasive developmental disorder . Your doctor might use this term if your child has some autistic behavior, like delays in social and communications skills, but doesnât fit into another category.
What Are The Causes Of Autism
Experts donât fully understand all of the causes of autism spectrum disorder. It seems to be genetic, but things such as parental age and prescription medications taken during pregnancy may be involved.
- A person is more likely to be on the spectrum if a brother, sister, or parent is. But it doesnât always run in families.
- About 10% of kids with ASD have a form of genetic disorder such as Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome.
- A large Danish study found a link between ASD and advanced parental age of either parent.
- Women prescribed opioids just before pregnancy are likelier to have a child with ASD.
Some children who are on the spectrum start showing signs as young as a few months old. Others seem to have normal development for the first few months or years of their lives and then they start showing symptoms.
But up to half of parents of children with ASD noticed issues by the time their child reached 12 months, and between 80% and 90% noticed problems by 2 years. Children with ASD will have symptoms throughout their lives, but itâs possible for them to get better as they get older.
The autism spectrum is very wide. Some people might have very noticeable issues, others might not. The common thread is differences in social skills, communication, and behavior compared with people who arenât on the spectrum.
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Signs Of Social Difficulties
- Appears disinterested or unaware of other people or whats going on around them.
- Doesnt know how to connect with others, play, or make friends.
- Prefers not to be touched, held, or cuddled.
- Doesnt play pretend games, engage in group games, imitate others, or use toys in creative ways.
- Has trouble understanding feelings or talking about them.
- Doesnt seem to hear when others talk to them.
- Doesnt share interests or achievements with others .
Basic social interaction can be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder. Many kids on the autism spectrum seem to prefer to live in their own world, aloof and detached from others.
Autism Is A Genetic Disorder
Although autism was once believed to be the result of improper parenting, researchers now believe that genesnot psychological factorsare to blame. In fact, a 2019 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that 80% of autism risk comes from inherited genetic factors. The study was widespread, looking at 2 million people from five countries .
If a couple has one child with autism, there is a 5 to 10 percent chance that siblings will have some sort of autistic disorder. With identical twins, the likelihood is 60 percent. Even though profoundly autistic people rarely have children, researchers often find that a relative has mild autistic symptoms or a high-functioning autism-spectrum disorder.
Experts believe that autism is the result of multiple genes anywhere from three to 20 interacting with each other. This may explain why the symptoms and severity of the disorder vary greatly. These genes may cause a baby’s brain to develop abnormally in utero or make him more susceptible to unknown triggers. “There is probably a combination of genetic and environmental influences,” says Catherine Lord, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism and Communication Disorders at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. Although the genes linked to autism have not yet been pinpointed, intense research is under way.
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What Is The Outlook For People With Autism Spectrum Disorder
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.