It takes a village to raise a child. I think it takes a child with autism or other special needs to raise the consciousness of a village. – Elaine Hall, Founder of the Miracle Project
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and to questions that are not asked, but should be.
FQA 01: Does X cause Autism?
( X = absolutely any random factor or product that you can think of. From Vaccines to Peppa Pig, I’ve heard it all.) It will be much more feasible and less time consuming to talk about the Autism risk factors , instead of going through the list of things that he been said to cause Autism, but don’t.
Here’s what the latest science knows about the causes of Autism:
Genetics: Genetic predisposition, triggered by environmental factors. Most cases of Autism involve not one, but several complex and variable combination of genetic risk and environmental factors that influenced the brain’s development.
Environmental risk Factors: Before or during birth
Parental age at time of conception
Maternal illness during pregnancy
Low Birth weight
Difficulties during birth like oxygen deprivation
Mothers exposed to high levels of pesticide
NB: these factors , by themselves, do NOT cause autism. Rather, when genetic risk factors are present, they significantly increase the risk.
What is obviously not on the list:
Vaccines: MMR vaccines do not cause autism. But anti-vaccine decisions cause measles. Read more here,and here for the science (cause that’s reliable, and reliable is always good).
Tom and Jerry, Peppa Pig, Dora: All types of screen time is not recommended for children under 2 years, but NOT because it causes Autism. For other valid reasons like the boundaries it places on developing important communication, play and sensory skills. All of which do not cause Autism.
FQA 02: What are the early signs and symptoms of Autism?
Numerous studies have been conducted on the effects of early intervention verses later treatment, and all signs point to a clear increase in IQ and a decreased gap in the children’s abilities. Early, intensive and specialised intervention must not be delayed from undiagnosed or “maybe” situations. Better safe than sorry, and with the recent study about signs as early as 6 months, one can be reassured even sooner.
For concerned parents, the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R™) provides a clear and easy fill-in questionnaire that would indicate if further help should be provided by a healthcare professional. Questions about the baby’s usual behaviours or lack-there-of can be filled by any parent or guardian with instant results at the end of the screening.
FQA 03: Why is Autism on the rise?
From the news every April, the local Autism Awareness Campaigns, or just the community, people are growing more aware that Autism is in fact on the rise. The most recent CDC statistics state that currently, 1 in 68 children are on the Autism Spectrum. Which is a significant tenfold increase over the last 40 years.
Of Course, it is important to note into that , the growing awareness and improved diagnosis, however, careful research and dissection of numbers shows that this only counts for part of the increase, not all of it.
As for the Why: Seeing that the initial cause of autism is still undetermined , researchers can’t point out why it is increasing so drastically. This has called for an increased funding for research into the causes, but non are conclusive yet. The most recent attempt at trying to dissect Autism was a large scale collaboration between Autism Speaks and Google called MSNNG (Seen here) where they collected genome sequences of 10,000 individuals with Autism aiming to find a pattern in genetic mutations. Results are still pending.
FQA 04: Can children with Autism lead independent lives? Graduate? Have a family of their own?
The first thing to know about Autism is that it is a Spectrum Disorder, officially known as Autism Spectrum Disorder ( ASD). This translates to a full range of abilities and disabilities in each individual diagnosed. Personally, having been in the field for 7 years, I have still not meet a child with autism whose case is similar to another one. Each person with ASD presents a unique set of challenges ranging from the high functioning individuals like Dr. Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed with ASD at the age of 2 and has grown to be a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, world-renowned autism spokesperson and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, to the low functioning individuals who need lifelong care and integration efforts.
It is almost impossible and inaccurate to state how the future of an individual with autism will look like. Factors such as individual diagnosis, early intensive intervention, and community integration all play a vital role in ensuring optimal results.
FQA 05: Do all children with Autism have above-average intelligence or a special “talent”?
This is very common misconception, mainly due to hollywood and the media surrounding high functioning individuals with autism, like the movie Rainman or the math prodigy Jacob Barnett appearing on the CBS and several other TV shows showcasing his graduate level knowledge in math.
However, it is VERY important to note that not all children have these talents, it highly depends on their specific case and the intensiveness of intervention was used to direct them. As we stated above, Autism is a spectrum disorder with abilities ranging across a whole range, rather than a set limited and unified form. Only a certain percentage of individuals diagnosed with ASD are thought to be high-functioning (previously named Asperger’s Syndrome).
There is a famous saying in the field by Stephen Shore that I find always true: “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism” highlighting how no two cases are the same.
FQA 06: Is there a cure of Autism?
Autism is a lifelong disorder. It is a range of developmental conditions that might see significant improvement with the appropriate intervention and/or medication to treat some of the symptoms . However, the thought of a “cure” where there support is no longer needed is non-existent, and some would even say insulting. Autism advocates and individuals with Autism themselves see no need for anyone to be cured from Autism as it presents them with unique abilities and poses no trouble for them as individuals.