Because I work in the field of autism, I often get questioned by strangers which reveal that the current knowledge about autism is not widely understood by the general public. With statistics and myths all over the place, sometimes it is tough to separate the truth about autism from fiction. Here is what we know:
1) There are many theories as to what causes autism, but no cause has been scientifically proven
It seems like everyone has an hypothesis about the cause of autism. Fact is, we don’t know the cause yet. While there have been a number of studies that have disproven some ideas, we will just have to wait to find out the definitive cause. Researchers know that genetics are involved, and they speculate that a genetic predisposition, combined with some unknown environmental exposure act together to cause autism. The cause of autism is still largely a puzzle.
2) Autism occurs far more frequently in boys than in girls
In fact, autism occurs at a 4 to 1 male to female ratio. Much like the cause, the reason why autism is more frequent in boys is also unknown.
3) The prevalence of Autism is now 1 in 110
The number of individuals with an autism diagnosis has drastically increased in the past 30 years. Experts aren’t sure if this is due to increasing awareness of the disorder by both parents and doctors, the widening of what falls under the autism “umbrella”, or if it’s a true increase. For example, Aspergers is now considered to be an autism diagnosis.
4) Autism is characterized by deficits in three areas
We know that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a range of disorders and individuals with ASD have varying degrees of deficits in social skills and verbal or nonverbal communication, and have restricted, repetitive patterns of interest.
5) Autism has a strong genetic component
We also know that autism has a strong genetic component, and that a sibling of a person with autism is anywhere from 20 to 40 times more likely to develop the disorder. A more mild form of autism that could actually be undetected in a family member may show up in a child as a more severe form of autism. It’s more complicated than other genetic conditions, such as Down’s syndrome, which have a single chromosome missing.
Researchers have found that autism affects many genes however they can’t yet determine a pattern among those affected. Of course, researchers also suspect an environmental issue plays into this as well, but as mentioned earlier that is as yet unknown. What we know now is that there is a genetic component to this disorder.
6) Autism is a spectrum disorder
Autism is not a one size fits all diagnosis. There’s a saying: If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve just met one person with autism. In reality, there are many different levels of functioning in people on the autism spectrum. Some are indistinguishable from typical functioning adults with mainly small undetectable social skills differences, while others are unable to talk and suffer from many more severe symptoms. Each child does share the key deficits in social, communication, and restricted patterns of interest, but there is wide variation withing the term “autism”.
7) There are many forms of treatment, but there is no "cure" for autism
Just as there are many different levels of function for people with autism, there are also different forms of treatment. There are rare cases of children that can become “indistinguishable from their peers” after many hours of early intensive behavior intervention, but still, there is no known cure and autism remains a mystery.