autism Overview & General Resources
What is autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects each individual differently and to varying degrees. Autism impacts an individual’s ability to communicate and engage in social interactions, maintain and understand relationships and regulate sensory input. It is common that autistic people have stereotyped and repetitive behaviors and/or deep interests on certain topics with high intensity.
How do I know if my child is showing signs of autism?
Signs of autism almost always begin before a child is 3 years old. Often, parents notice a delay in learning to talk, or no talking at all. Other behaviors observed include little to no eye contact with other people, a preference to play alone, repeated body movements, attachment to objects, or getting extremely upset when a routine changes. If you have noticed these in your child, contact your child’s doctor, and if appropriate, ask for a referral.
How is autism diagnosed?
Autism is diagnosed through observation of an individual’s behaviors and by collecting information on psychiatric history, developmental history, and medical history of the individual. Psychiatric history of the family is often asked. Specialists who can provide a diagnostic evaluation include Developmental Pediatricians, Child Neurologists, Child Psychologists, Child Psychiatrists, and Speech and Language Pathologists. These specialists will evaluate an individual's behaviors in two main areas:
Communication and social interactions. For example, a child may have trouble making eye contact or won't share interests with people around them. People with autism also may also perceive someone else's feelings, such as pain or sadness, differently.
Repetitive and restrictive patterns of behavior. This may include repetitive body movements, limited interests in activities or play, focusing on parts of toys rather than playing with the whole toy. Older children and adults may be fascinated by very specific topics, like cars.
How young can a child be to receive a diagnosis of autism?
Most clinicians wait until a child is 18 - 24 months before providing a diagnosis. Depending on the circumstances, the assessment may be delayed even further. It is important for children who receive diagnoses when they are very young to be re-evaluated each year, including observation of changes in cognitive and language skills.
What causes autism?
Despite enormous efforts around the globe, at this time nobody knows what causes autism. There may be many different factors that make someone more likely to have autism, including environmental, biological, and genetic factors. Scientists are trying to find out exactly which genes and which environmental insults may play a role in autism.
How common is autism?
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that about 1 in 44 children are identified with autism. Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, and are about four times more common among boys than girls. Autism is the fastest growing diagnosis in the California Special Education system.
Where can I learn more about autism?
There are a number of excellent websites with goals of providing information about autism and/or a guide to resources and programs for individuals and families affected by autism. Below, we have listed a few general resources:
Autism Speaks: Should My Child Take Medicine for Challenging Behavior? A Decision Aid for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Please note that the Bay Area Autism Consortium provides resource information only. The BAAC cannot recommend any specific clinical treatment and does not specifically endorse any of the listed programs, providers, therapies, medications, or philosophies you may encounter on this site.