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Understanding Autism

AutismAutism is one of a group of serious developmental disorders called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) that appear in early childhood and is diagnosed before age 3. Although symptoms and severity vary, all autism disorders impair a child’s social interaction and communication with others.

The number of children diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically since the 1980’s. Whether this is due to better detection and reporting of autism, or a real increase in the number of cases, or a combination of both not fully known.

Symptoms of Autism

Autism first appears during infancy or early childhood and follows a steady course without remission. Overt symptoms gradually begin after the age of six months, become established by two to three years old, and continue through adulthood, although toned down. Children with autism generally have a triad of symptoms – impairments in social interaction, communication and behavior. Symptoms of autism vary greatly and in most cases, severe autism is marked by a complete inability to communicate or interact with others. Every child with autism may have a unique pattern of behavior, but some common symptoms of autism include:

Social skills or development

  • Less attention to social stimuli
  • Poor eye contact, less smiling
  • Fails to respond to own name
  • Appears to not hear you at times
  • Resists cuddling and holding
  • Appears unaware of others’ feelings
  • Prefers to play alone – retreats into own world

Communication or language

  • Starts to talk later than age 2, and has other developmental delays by 30 months
  • Less likely to make requests or share experiences
  • Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences
  • Speaks with abnormal tone or rhythm such as a singsong voice or robot-like speech
  • Can’t start or keep a conversation going
  • May repeat words or phrases verbatim, but doesn’t understand how to use them


  • Performs repetitive movements such as body rocking, head rolling, spinning or hand-flapping
  • Develops specific routines or rituals
  • Disturbed at the slightest change in routines or rituals
  • Moves constantly
  • May be fascinated by parts of an object or toy
  • May be unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch, yet oblivious to pain

Managing Autism

Although there is no known cure for autism, there have been reported cases of children who occasionally recover and may lose their ASD diagnosis. Many children with autism do not live independently after reaching adulthood, although some manage to become successful. Intensive, sustained early treatment can make a significant difference for many children with autism.

There is a broad range of home-based and school-based treatments and interventions, and they can be overwhelming for parents of a child with autism. You should speak to your doctor to help identify resources in your area that may work best for your child.

Treatment for autism usually focuses on lessening associated deficits and family distress, and increasing quality of life and functional independence. No single treatment is best for all children with autism, and treatment is usually tailored to the needs of each child.

Families and the educational system are the primary resources for treatment of autism. Special education programs and behavior therapy early in life can help children diagnosed with autism to learn self-care, social, and job skills, and can often improve functioning and decrease the severity of symptoms and maladaptive behaviors. There is still no evidence that intervention before the age of three is critical to managing the disorder.

Parenting a child with autism

Parenting a child with autism can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining, and the day-to-day care stressful. Whether you are an adoptive or a biological parent, there is a list of some key things to remember to help you take care of your child, as well as yourself. Here are just five:

Educate yourself

Learn everything you can. Visit websites about children with autism, consult governmental and nonprofit organizations for more information, and stay up to date on current research findings.


Seek the right professional team for your child

Ask your doctor for help with coordinating a professional team that may include social workers, teachers and therapists, who can help with the resources in your area, and a case manager or service coordinator to help access financial services and government programs.

Make time for yourself, your family and other important relationships

Keep up with the activities you enjoy, and maintain your relationships with family and friends. Schedule personal one-on-one time with your spouse and with your other children, and participate in social outings with your friends.

Build a support system

Seek out local groups and parent network organizations for families of children with autism – you may find useful advice. Ask your doctor or child developmental specialist for referrals.

Ask for help

Ask for help if you or your partner feel overwhelmed or depressed, or if caring for your child is affecting your relationship. Ask your doctor for help with finding qualified individuals, couples, or a family therapist.

Links or Useful Resources for Autism:

The National Autistic Society -

Autism Canada -

Autism Ontario -

KidsHealth -

Top ten tips…

BBC News Feature (Video) -

Content references:

Mayo Clinic -

Wiki -

Autism Canada -

WebMD -