The facts: Although people with Autism share difficulties in the core areas of social-communication, restricted and repetitive behaviours and sensory processing, every person with Autism is unique and has different abilities and interests. Many positive characteristics are common in people with Autism, such as the ability to focus intensely on detail and learn about topics of interest.
The facts: People with Autism generally have an uneven developmental profile, meaning that their level of ability may differ across different skills. All people with Autism have strengths and in some cases a person may be very gifted in a particular skill or area which may be described as a ‘savant skill’. This might include quickly computing complex mathematical equations or having a ‘photographic’ memory. Although some people with Autism do have these outstanding abilities, the majority do not.
The facts: Although many people with Autism do not have other conditions, many do. Some common conditions that people with Autism may be diagnosed with are Intellectual Disability, Epilepsy and Fragile X Syndrome.
The facts: Some people with Autism also have an Intellectual Disability, however others have an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) within the typical range or higher. In some cases a measure of IQ is taken during the initial Autism assessment process. For children with Autism, measuring IQ can be more difficult and an accurate measure may not be possible.
The facts: Although some children with Autism may have delayed speech or may not use words to communicate, many have very well developed speech. In fact, some children may speak earlier than typically developing peers, but may have an unusual style of communication, such as overly formal speech or a strong preference to talk about particular subjects. There is a very wide range of skills and abilities amongst children with Autism in relation to speech.
The facts: As with other children there are those with Autism who may shout or hit out when they are distressed, but this is certainly not the case for all children with Autism. When it does occur, this challenging behaviour is often related to a lack of alternative skills, or difficulties coping in the sensory environment, regulating emotions or communicating needs.
In some cases a child with Autism may show interest in the reactions of people who are hurt or upset, but the child may not understand what these emotions mean. Challenging behaviours are often a communication of last resort. It is rare for a child with Autism to intentionally cause harm to another person.
The facts: People with Autism may have difficulty expressing emotions, or may express them in a different way. Children with Autism experience the full range of emotions. It is common for people with Autism to have difficulty recognising and interpreting the emotions of others which can lead to misunderstandings.
Children with Autism can build skills and learn to respond to other people in ways that are more typical or expected. Children with Autism can and do show physical affection but often on their own terms. For some children, typical means of showing affection are more difficult, such as maintaining eye gaze and physical contact.
The facts: Children with Autism often have very strong bonds with important people in their lives. Because some children with Autism may show their emotions and affection in different ways, it may appear to others that they do not have strong relationships, however, some children with Autism show their affection quite openly.
The facts: Most people with Autism do want to have friends, but have difficulty engaging socially with others or knowing how to recognise and respond to the intentions and emotions of others. The social skills required to form friendships often need to be taught explicitly to children with Autism. Planned activities around shared interests are often the key to supporting friendships.
The facts: Autism is a developmental disorder. In children with Autism, the brain develops differently to typically developing children, affecting many areas of development. No two children with Autism are the same, however, research has shown with some children marked differences in brain size and connectivity at certain stages of development, when compared to their typically developing peers.
The facts: The way Autism is diagnosed has changed; we now recognise a wider range of characteristics as forming part of the Autism Spectrum. It is likely that many children who have an Autism diagnosis today would not have met the diagnostic criteria if they were assessed against our previous definitions of Autism.
Also, as awareness increases, parents and professionals are better able to identify early signs of Autism and are more likely to seek an Autism assessment. There is not enough evidence at this stage to say that the incidence of Autism is increasing.
The facts: Autism is not caused by parents. We do not yet know the causes of Autism definitively; however, the research that has been conducted does not support the view that parenting style can cause Autism. It is likely that there are several causes including brain development and genetic factors.
Because of difficulties with sensory processing and communication, some children with Autism respond negatively to some typical parenting behaviours, such as touch and hugs, and may require direct communication in order to understand others. When parents adapt their behaviour to respond to their child’s needs it may appear unusual to others, but it is important not to assume that the parenting style is causing the child’s difficulties.
The facts: There is no reliable scientific evidence that childhood vaccinations cause Autism. There is reliable evidence that not vaccinating children has led to an increase in preventable and sometimes life-threatening diseases.
One well known but flawed research paper reported a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunisation. When the flaws in the study were revealed, the paper was later retracted. Several large scale studies have since examined the possibility of a link between MMR and Autism and have found no evidence to support the link.
The facts: There is currently no known cure for Autism, however, through appropriate intervention children can acquire many of the skills they need for a successful and full life. Although some proponents of certain treatments may describe children who have been ‘cured’, it is more likely that these children have been particularly successful in acquiring skills which enable them to function more effectively through their everyday life.
For example, with enhanced social skills a child with Autism may appear indistinguishable from others. However, that same child may struggle to maintain those skills and deal with other aspects of Autism throughout their life.
In some cases, children described as being ‘cured’ may have been wrongly diagnosed having displayed some features of Autism. A comprehensive assessment may have found the child did not display the signs required to meet the Autism diagnostic criteria.
Although there is no known cure, the skills that can be acquired in early intervention can provide a firm basis for ongoing skill development. With the appropriate support, people with Autism – from childhood to adulthood – can lead happy and productive lives.
The term Autism refers to a diverse range of conditions. Children with Autism are as different from one another as they are to other children without Autism. We do not yet know the causes of Autism, but we do know that it is life-long condition related to differences in early development. Although there is no cure for Autism, early intervention can teach children the skills necessary for a full life.