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Autism Frequently Asked Questions

What is autism?
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that causes a lifelong developmental disability. It is marked by abnormal or impaired development in social interaction, communication, and restricted interests and activities. The degree of severity varies greatly from one individual to the other and manifests differently, depending on the developmental level and chronological age.
At what age is autism identified?
A diagnosis of autism requires an onset of symptoms prior to age three; however, a diagnosis can be made prior to, and after, age three. Research shows that symptoms can manifest as early as infancy or develop after a period of normal development, at which time, skills that were already acquired are lost. Early diagnosis and intervention are vital keys to successful treatment of autism.
What causes autism?
Scientists simply do not know what causes autism and how it affects the brain of the individual. Although many theories exist, there is no definitive answer to this question. Researchers are conducting studies in many areas, including, but not limited to: genetics, environmental toxins, brain structure, chemicals, mercury poisoning, exposure to the MMR and other vaccinations, and immunodeficiency disorders.
How common is autism?
Prevalence rates vary, depending on the source and type of research that was conducted. The Center for Disease Control reports that recent studies estimate as many as one in 110 individuals exhibit some form of autism. Prevalence rates are four to five times higher for boys than for girls. This 2010 report states one in 70 boys is identified versus one in 315 girls.
According to research conducted by Raymond Palmer, UTHSCSA (2001), the prevalence rate for the State of Texas has risen drastically over the past twelve years. Data collected by the Texas Education Agency in October of 2010, revealed that approximately 26,000 children are receiving services for autism across the state.
Is autism on the rise?
The prevalence rate of autism has increased globally in recent years. In many areas, it is the most frequently occurring developmental disability. The figures from the U.S. Department of Health 2006 study indicate that autism has increased at an average rate of more than 57 percent over the last study which was conducted in 2002. The cause of this increase is unknown, but many researchers attribute it to increased awareness, willingness to seek assistance, better diagnostic abilities, or possibly a true increase in the statistical information.
How does autism affect behavior?
Behavior challenges can range from mild to very severe. Severe behavior can take the form of aggression towards others, damage of possessions and/or property, extreme hyperactivity, and self-injurious behaviors. In its milder form, behavior is manifested through the deficits in social skills and communication.
Does autism occur with other disabilities?
Autism can occur with or without other disabilities. Other commonly occurring disabilities are: learning disabilities, mental retardation, seizure disorder, blind and/or deaf, tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis, and fetal alcohol syndrome. The effects of these combined disorders are more intensive than if they occur alone.
What services are available in the schools?
All services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are applicable to children with autism. These laws include: a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), assessment, an individualized education plan (IEP), due process, and the least restrictive environment (LRE). In the state of Texas, children with autism are also considered for: in-home training, parent training, suitable student-to-teacher ratio, extended-year programming, prioritized behavioral objectives, prevocational and vocational needs, and daily schedules with minimal unstructured time. Based on individual needs, children are also considered for services in speech and language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and adaptive physical education.
Do children with autism have a preferred learning style?
Many children with autism learn through a highly structured educational program that includes the use of visual strategies that are tailored to the individual needs of each child. Researchers state that 90% of children with autism learn through the visual modality. However, no one strategy works for all children with autism. Programs should be developed based on the individual needs and learning style of the child, as measured through the use of assessment.
What is the potential for children with autism?
The potential for a child with autism is as difficult to predict as the potential for a typically developing child. Children who seem to be low functioning during childhood can make significant gains and function well in their teens and adulthood. Children who are doing well in childhood could be more greatly challenged during their teen and adult years. Many will live with their families or in a group home and participate in supported employment. Others will lead nearly normal lives, living and working independently within their community.