Top 10 Facts About Autism

Parents and siblings of people with autism quickly discover the top autism facts, but what about in-laws, teachers, neighbours, cousins and so on? Few people outside the immediate family tend to want to read 20 closely-written pages from text books, so here is a quick read to bring you up to speed.

1) Autism is a spectrum disorder

People with autism can be a little autistic or very autistic. Thus, it is possible to be bright, verbal and autistic as well as intellectually challenged, non-verbal and autistic. A disorder that includes such a broad range of symptoms is often called a spectrum disorder; hence the term ‘autism spectrum disorder’. The most significant shared symptom is difficulty with social communication (eye contact, conversation, taking another’s perspective, etc.).

2) Asperger syndrome is a high functioning form of autism

Asperger syndrome (AS) is considered to be a part of the autism spectrum. The only significant difference between AS and high functioning autism is that people with AS usually develop speech right on time while people with autism usually have speech delays. People with AS are generally very bright and verbal, but have significant social deficits.

3) People with autism are different from one another

If you’ve seen Rain Man or a TV show about autism, you may think you know what autism ‘looks like’. In reality, when you’ve met one person with autism you’ve met ONE person with autism. Some people with autism are chatty; others are silent. Many have sensory issues, gastrointestinal problems, sleep difficulties and other medical problems. Others may have social-communication delays - and that’s it.

4) There are dozens of treatments for autism but no cure

So far as medical science is aware, there is at present no cure for autism. That’s not to say that people with autism don’t improve, because many improve radically. But even when people with autism increase their skills, they are still autistic, which means they think and perceive differently from most people. People with autism may receive many types of treatments. Treatments may be biomedical, sensory, behavioural, developmental or even arts-based. Depending upon the person, certain treatments will be more successful than others.

5) There are many theories on the cause of autism, but no consensus

You may have seen or heard news stories about possible causes of autism. Theories range from mercury in infant vaccines to genetics to the age of the parents to almost everything else. At present, most researchers think autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and it’s quite possible that different people’s symptoms have different causes.

6) People don’t grow out of autism

Autism is a lifelong diagnosis. For some people, often (but not always) those who receive intensive early intervention, symptoms may decrease radically. People with autism can also learn coping skills to help them manage their difficulties and even build on their unique strengths. But a person with autism will probably be autistic for their whole life.

7) Families coping with autism need help and support

Even ‘high functioning’ autism is challenging for parents. ‘Low functioning’ autism can be overwhelming to the entire family. Families may be under a great deal of stress and they need all the help they can get from friends, extended family and service providers. Respite care (someone else taking care of the person with autism while other family members take a break) can make all the difference!

8) There’s no best school for autism

You may have heard of a ‘wonderful autism school’ or read about a child doing ‘amazingly well’ in a particular type of classroom setting. While any given setting may be perfect for any given child, every child with autism has unique needs. Even in an ideal world, ‘including’ a child with autism in a typical class may not be the best choice. Decisions about autistic education are generally made by a team made up of parents, teachers, administrators and therapists who know the child well.

9) There are many unfounded myths about autism

The media is full of stories about autism and many of those stories are less than accurate. For example, you may have heard that people with autism are ‘cold and unfeeling’, or that people with autism never marry or hold productive jobs. Since every person with autism is different, however, such ‘always’ and ‘never’ statements are simply untrue. To understand a person with autism, it’s a good idea to spend some time getting to know him or her, personally!

10) Autistic people have many strengths and abilities

It may seem that autism is a wholly negative diagnosis. But almost everyone on the autism spectrum has a great to deal to offer the world. People with autism are among the most forthright, non-judgemental, passionate people you’ll ever meet.

Also see our list of Autism Definitions.