Autism spectrum disorder
Autism spectrum disorder, according to the CDC, is a “developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” However, the actual outward presentation of someone with autism can vary as wildly as can the outward presentation of someone with black hair. Autism is different for every person, and therefore is something that ideally should avoid generalization. Here are symptoms that may be seen with a diagnosis of ASD. These include:
-Trouble relating to others or having interest in them
-Touch sensitivity/dislike of physical contact
-More literal perception of world, may dislike fantasy
-Reactions that may be perceived as odd
-Trouble adapting to change
-Flapping of arms or other spontaneous, uncontrollable urges
-Few physical gestures
-Not understanding jokes or sarcasm
-May talk for a long time about one subject they are passionate about
-High sensitivity to stimuli (light, sound)
Note that an individual with autism may have all of these symptoms, or one, or none of these and another that is not on this list. It will vary, hence the term “spectrum.”
Researchers do not know the exact cause of autism but are investigating a number of theories, including the links among heredity, genetics and medical problems. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting the theory that the disorder has a genetic basis. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that children with autism may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism but researchers have not yet identified a single “trigger” that causes autism to develop.
Other researchers are investigating the possibility that under certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain development, resulting in autism. Still other researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances and exposure to chemicals.
ASD occurs in all racial and ethnic groups, but is 4 times more common in boys than girls. 1 out of 59 modern kids will be diagnosed. While there is no treatment, there are therapeutic ways to help autistic people function better in society. A great way to help people with ASD in your community is to be accepting and respectful of them and their needs, and have at least a basic understanding of how to do so.
Autism Myths and Misconceptions
There are many public misconceptions about ASD which can be harmful to those in the community. Here are several lists, compiled by autistic people and others, of some of those myths.
However, one myth that does not appear on those lists that is extremely important to address is the supposed link between autism and vaccines.
VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM.
This misconception began with a study published in The Lancet journal in 1998 in the UK that seemed to show a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. However, this study had many flaws including a participation group of only 12 people, a faulty process, and falsely manipulated outcomes, and was retracted by the journal that published it in 2010 after multiple other studies had been done to prove it wrong. This has not stopped many in the US and abroad from falsely making the harmful connection between vaccines and ASD, however, and correcting this narrative is extremely important for both children and adults with ASD and those who care about and wish to support them.