WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism can be an extremely confusing disorder. Even doctors and other experts admit there’s still a lot they don’t know. For the parent of an autistic child, this can be frustrating. You want answers, and you want them now.
Although much may still be unknown about autism, there is a multitude of very valuable information available. Over the next few pages, you’ll find answers to some of the most common and difficult questions about autism, as well as a section that separates myth from fact.
We believe you can never be too informed. The more information you have, whether from reading a book or talking to your doctor, the more it can help you help your child.
Autism is difficult and presents a daunting challenge to a parent. But every year, more and more research breakthroughs are made. Today, many children diagnosed with autism go on to lead healthy and productive lives. So take a deep breath, start reading and remember one thing: You are not alone.
SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM
The symptoms of autism and their onset may vary among children, even those who are diagnosed at the same end of the autism spectrum. Below you’ll find information on the most common symptoms. Hopefully, this list will help you identify and better understand your child’s behavior.
Exclusivity/ lack of significant peer-to-peer relations
People with autism often find ways to avoid spending meaningful and intense interactive time with others. While at times they may converse, interact or play with others, there is a significant difference between the amount of quality time an autistic child spends with people versus the amount of time a non-autistic child might spend with others. There are three basic ways this exclusivity presents itself. They are:
Repetitious and self-stimulating behaviors
The single most defining characteristic of autism is “self-stims,” exclusive and repetitious behaviors. For instance, the child may line up objects on the floor repeatedly, flap his hands in front of his head, watch TV or videos over and over, stare off into space for long periods of time, or repeat particular sounds or phrases. These are the behaviors that lead people to describe autism as a child being in his or her “own world.”
Lack of consistent eye contact
While many people with autism can look consistently at objects for long periods of time, they often make little eye contact with other people.
Low attention span for human interactions
Most autistic people don’t interact with others for significant periods of time. Autistics will often halt an interaction by walking away and doing a self-stimulating behavior (see above). They will sometimes return to the interaction after having done the self-stim.
Autism is a developmental delay. This means that different aspects of the child’s development are slowed. These aspects can vary, but often include: language challenges, self-help skills (such as dressing, toilet training, and brushing teeth), academic issues, and injurious behavior to self or others. Some autistic children have many evident developmental delays, while others may have no apparent delays at all. This is part of what makes treating autism so complicated—and one of the reasons we created Kyle’s Treehouse.
An autistic child’s language skills can range from being completely non-verbal to having a huge vocabulary with the ability to speak in long, meaningful conversations. The main aspects of language are size of vocabulary, clarity of speech, and using speech as the main form of communication versus a self-stimulating behavior.
Some people with autism dress themselves immaculately, others prefer to wear nothing at all. Some are extremely conscientious when they go to the toilet, others will use a diaper or go on the floor. Some eat a variety of foods, others refuse to eat anything but cookies. As with all developmental delays in autism, the range is immense.
People with autism may have very strong academic abilities or may show no interest or ability at all in academics. In most cases, autistics don’t value academics and give it little attention. While others are excellent at academics—they love words and numbers and use them as a self-stimulating behavior, a way to be exclusive.
Some children with autism will hit, kick, or bite themselves and others. This may happen when the child is not getting what he or she wants, but may also occur at other times with no explanation.
WHY DOES AUTISM OCCUR?
You may be wondering, “Why me?” Why did autism enter your life? The truth is, no one knows. There have been various theories explored over the years, but today a single cause still eludes the scientific community. Many people believe there may be more than one cause, and current research is covering areas from genetic and metabolic factors to food allergies and pollution.
One thing we do know is that your parenting style has nothing to do with it: this has been repeatedly investigated and dismissed as a viable theory.
We are firm believers that both a cause and a cure will be found one day. New breakthroughs are occurring all the time as funding spent annually on research accelerates. In the meantime, our focus is on helping families like yours. As the search for a cure continues, there are many options that can improve the lives and ease the struggle of children who are affected and the parents who care for them.