What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex neurological disorder. Although it manifests in each individual differently, autism is characterized by social interaction difficulties, communication challenges as well as repetitive and restrictive patterns of behaviours, interests or activities.

How prevalent is it?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2012), approximately 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism. It is 4.5 times more common in boys than girls, and an estimated 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism. Autism knows no boundaries and affects individuals from every ethnicity and socio-economic background.

How does it present?

Autism is a broad spectrum and each person presents with a wide range of intellectual abilities. Some children with autism are intellectually challenged, some have average to above average intellectual abilities while others test within the gifted range. What this means when autism grows up is that some persons will require full time support, others will live independently with some support, and others will have careers and families.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors will look at a child's development and history. This is why being familiar with the typical developmental milestones of infants and toddlers would be helpful. Typically, an infant will gaze at faces, turn towards a speaker's voice and even smile at 2 to 3 months. Babbling begins between 6 to 10 months and usually first words are spoken at 12 months of age. Some children may show signs of autism from birth, others appear to develop according to all of the milestones at first and develop symptoms later. If you notice a delay in communication or social skills at any age, visit your doctor. He or she may refer you to a Developmental Pediatrician.

What diagnostic tool is used?

In May of 2013, the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) was published. What this means is, no matter how you present on the spectrum; you receive one diagnosis; Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Prior to this, under the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), there were five disorders. Each were different enough from the other to receive five different diagnoses but similar enough to be under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders. They were Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Rhett Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Childhood Disintegration Disorder.