by Brian M. Williams

Learn more about AutismAutism is a complex neurological disorder that effects social interaction, cognitive abilities and emotional development. It is a disorder with no known cause and no cure. Early intervention and public awareness, coupled with strong research efforts are making huge strides to improve the quality of life for autistic individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder. ASDs occur in groups of every race, nation, culture and economic background. Symptoms typically emerge between 18 months and 36 months of age. Autistic children are high-needs, and they and their families need the support of their communities to dispel myths and prevent mistreatment.

Myth! Children with Autism Never Make Eye Contact

Many children with autism establish eye contact. It may be less than or different from the typical child, but they do look at people, smile, and express many other wonderful non-verbal communications.

Myth! Inside a Child with Autism is a Genius

The myth that a genius is hidden in a child with autism may exist because of the uneven nature of the skills that many children exhibit. Children with autism may have splendid physical skills, but no functional language. A child may remember the birthday of every child in his class at school, yet be unable to determine when to use the pronouns "you" or "me" appropriately. A child may read with perfect articulation and not understand the meaning of what he has read. Children with autism exhibit a full range of IQ scores. Most children with autism will exhibit significant delays in some areas of mental processing. A very small percentage exhibit above normal intelligence; an equally small percentage of children exhibit very low intellectual functioning.

Myth! Children with Autism Do Not Talk.

Many children with autism develop good functional language. Most other children can develop some communication skills, such as use of sign language, pictures, computers, or electronic devices.

Myth! Children with Autism Cannot Show Affection.

Probably one of the most devastating myths for families is the misconception that children with autism cannot give and receive affection and love. We know that sensory stimulation is processed differently by some children with autism, causing them to have difficulty expressing affection in conventional ways. Giving and receiving love from a child with autism may require a willingness to accept and give love on the child's terms. Sometimes the challenge for parents is waiting until the child can risk a greater connection. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends may not understand a child's aloofness, but can learn to appreciate and respect his/her capacity for connection with others.

More Myths and Misunderstandings about Autism

  • Progress means that the child doesn't have autism.
  • Behavior change from maladaptive to adaptive isn't autistic.
  • Children with autism do not smile at you.
  • Children with autism do not give or receive physical affection.
  • People with autism do not notice others and don't pick up cues from peers/adults.
  • People with autism do not want friends.
  • Individuals with autism do not relate to peers/adults.
  • People with autism could talk if they wanted to.
  • When a child with autism does not respond to a question/direction to which he has previously given a correct response, he is being stubborn/non-compliant/obnoxious.
  • Autism can be outgrown.
  • Autism is an emotional disability.
  • Children with autism cannot learn.
  • Children with autism will show no imagination.
  • Bad parenting causes autism.
  • Autism is rare.

• Facts • Facts • Facts •

There are great differences among people with autism. The range of autistic characteristics exhibited will be different in each person affected. Some individuals may exhibit only mild language delays, while others may have no functional speech. Regardless of language skills, social interactions are typically a challenge for most individuals with autism. They may have average or above average verbal, memory, or spatial skills, yet find it difficult to be imaginative or join in a game of softball with their friends. Others more severely affected may need greater assistance in handling day to day activities like crossing the street or making a purchase. Contrary to common belief, many children and adults with autism will make eye contact, show affection, smile, laugh, and express a variety of other emotions, though perhaps in varying degrees. Like others, they respond to their environment in positive and negative ways. The autism may affect their range of responses and make it more difficult to control how their bodies and minds react. People with autism live normal life spans and some of the behaviors associated with autism may change or disappear over time.
(Source: South Carolina Autism Society)

Parental Concerns that are RED FLAGS for Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Communication Concerns

  • Does not respond to his/her name
  • Cannot tell me what (s)he wants
  • Language is delayed
  • Doesn’t follow directions
  • Appears deaf at times
  • Seems to hear sometimes but not others
  • Doesn’t point or wave bye-bye

Social Concerns

  • Doesn’t smile socially
  • Seems to prefer to play alone
  • Gets things for himself
  • Is very independent
  • Does things "early"
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Is in his own world
  • Tunes us out
  • Is not interested in other children

Behavioral Concerns

  • Tantrums
  • Is hyperactive/uncooperative or oppositional
  • Doesn’t know how to play with toys
  • Gets stuck on things over and over
  • Toe walks
  • Has unusual attachments to toys (e.g., always is holding a certain object)
  • Lines things up
  • Is oversensitive to certain textures or sounds
  • Has odd movement patterns

Absolute Indications for immediate further evaluation

  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No gesturing (pointing, waving bye-bye, etc.) by 12 months
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No 2-word spontaneous (not just echolalic) phrases by 24 months
  • ANY Loss of ANY Language or Social Skills at ANY Age

(Source: For OC Kids Clinic - What is Autism?)

For a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, an individual must have signs across the categories of: Social Interaction, Communication and Repetitive Stereotyped behaviors. So one or two signs don't necessarily mean an individual has Autism. There has been studies that many individuals will have autistic traits but never warrant a diagnosis of autism. If you suspect your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder, please get your child evaluated through an Early Intervention program as early as possible or talk to your pediatrician.

If you know someone that does have a child with autism or is autistic, please learn as much as you can. Like many other developmental disabilities, acceptance of differences and the individual, educating children about those with autism and such help greatly.

Medical reference:
-- "CDC: Autism Spectrum Disorders." Updated May 13, 2010. Accessed March 25, 2012.