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Learning Centre

Autism

What is Autism?

Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills and repetitive/restricted patterns of behaviour or interests. Many people with Autism also have differences in sensory and cognitive processing. Autism affects how an individual processes, understands and acts on his or her world. All individuals with Autism will not display the same severity of symptoms, but there are some characteristic and predictable patterns of thinking and behaviour.

In the area of social interaction, an individual with Autism may prefer solitary activities and have anxiety in group settings. They may have difficulty understanding the feelings of others and the reciprocity of taking turns. In the area of communication, individuals with Autism may have differences in receptive and expressive communication styles and may have difficulty processing auditory language. An individual with Autism may display repetitive patterns of behaviour and may have strong attachments to objects or interests and may be resistant to change. Hyper or hypo-sensitivity to internal and external sensory stimuli may be present and individuals may engage in behaviours such as rocking, pounding ears or hand flicking. Cognitively, individuals with Autism may have difficulty transferring skills learned in one setting to a different setting, different people or different materials, and may be easily distractible.

Autism affects people across all racial, ethnic, social and economic groups worldwide. It affects approximately 1 in 88 individuals in the US and affects males four times more than females. Although the reports of Autism prevalence in Canada vary, some reports estimate that numbers could be as high as 1 in 94 individuals.

There is no medical test to diagnose Autism. Professionals use observations of a child’s communication skills, social interactions and other behaviours, as well as developmental milestones and formal assessments to diagnose ASD. These milestones may include such things as not pointing to objects or responding to their name by 12 months, not playing pretend games by 18 months or not saying two-word phrases by 24 months. Autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months, some argue even earlier.

Although there is no cure for Autism, individuals with Autism can learn new skills and with intervention, challenging behaviours can be decreased and positive behaviours can be increased. If you suspect your child might have ASD, contact your child’s physician for further consultation and a referral for assessment and diagnosis.

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