The Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin serves a greater community with a great mission — to improve the lives of individuals and families in southcentral and southwest Wisconsin affected by autism spectrum disorders.
Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin FAQ
Q: What is Autism?
A: Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today. (http://www.autism-society.org)
Q: What are some characteristics of autism?
A: The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorders may or may not be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but usually become obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).
As part of a well-baby/well-child visit, your child's doctor should do a "developmental screening," asking specific questions about your baby's progress. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that signal further evaluation is warranted:
•Does not babble or coo by 12 months
•Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
•Does not say single words by 16 months
•Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
•Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Having any of these five "red flags" does not mean your child has autism. But because the characteristics of the disorder vary so much, a child showing these behaviors should have further evaluations by a multidisciplinary team. This team may include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant, or other professionals knowledgeable about autism. (http://www.autism-society.org)
Q: What causes autism?
A: There is no known single cause for autism, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism versus neuro-typical children. Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting a genetic basis to the disorder. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that children with autism may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single "trigger" that causes autism to develop.
Other researchers are investigating the possibility that under certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain development, resulting in autism. Still other researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors, such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals. (http://www.autism-society.org)
Q: Is Asperger’s Syndrome a form of Autism?
A: Asperger's Syndrome is considered a separate disorder. What distinguishes Asperger's Disorder from Autism Disorder is the severity of the symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children with Asperger's Disorder may be only mildly affected and frequently have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger's Disorder may just seem like a normal child behaving differently.
Children with autism are frequently seen as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with Asperger's Disorder. Individuals with Asperger's Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others; they simply don't know how to do it. They may be socially awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation, and not understand the use of gestures.
Interests in a particular subject may border on the obsessive. Children with Asperger's Disorder frequently like to collect categories of things, such as rocks or bottle caps. They may be proficient in knowing categories of information, such as baseball statistics or Latin names of flowers. While they may have good rote memory skills, they have difficulty with abstract concepts.
One of the major differences between Asperger's Disorder and autism is that, by definition, there is no speech delay in Asperger's. In fact, children with Asperger's Disorder frequently have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. Speech patterns may be unusual, lack inflection or have a rhythmic nature, or it may be formal, but too loud or high pitched. Children with Asperger's Disorder may not understand the subtleties of language, such as irony and humor, or they may not understand the give-and-take nature of a conversation.
Another distinction between Asperger's Disorder and autism concerns cognitive ability. While some individuals with autism experience mental retardation, by definition a person with Asperger's Disorder cannot possess a "clinically significant" cognitive delay and most possess average to above average intelligence.
While motor difficulties are not a specific criteria for Asperger's, children with Asperger's Disorder frequently have motor skill delays and may appear clumsy or awkward. (http://www.autism-society.org)
Q: Is autism prevalent in the United States?
A: 1% of the population of children in the U.S. ages 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder. (Pediatrics, October 5, 2009, based on a National Children’s Health Survey done with 78,000 parents in 2007)