What is Autism and what does it mean for my child?

"What is autism?" will be answered differently by different parents as all children present in their own unique way.

As a result parents are often surprised when their child gets a diagnosis of autism because they have answered this question based on books they have read, or films that they have seen. Their response to "what is autism?" often involves a child totally withdrawn from the world, sitting in a corner and rocking or banging their head against the wall and screaming.

The important thing to remember about autism is that there is no typical. You may have heard the term "autism spectrum" and if a parent asks me the question "what is autism" this is usually my response...

There are a group of typical symptoms that have been identified as common to all children on the autism spectrum but these symptoms can present in different ways and with differing levels of severity in different children. This is why we refer to autism as a spectrum.

What is autism: Diagnosis

Children with autism generally have difficulty in two specific areas of development:

Social Communication

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviours, interests and activities

These general categories are common to all children on the autism spectrum. For detailed information about how these two areas of difficulty present in different children click here for autism symptoms As different children with autism present in different ways, the diagnostic criteria allow a lot of information to be provided that helps therapists and other specialists to better understand what your child needs.

This is different to the old way of diagnosing autism under the Diagnostic and Statistical manual (IV) which specified different types of autism. For more information about the new DSM(V) answer to the question "What is autism" click here 

Autism in babies and toddlers:

Another really common question is how early can you identify that a child has autism. Many specialists are reluctant to diagnose a child formally before the age of 3 years. However some children receive a diagnosis from the age of 2 years.

You may also be told that your child is too young to be formally diagnosed but that they are showing signs of autism. If this is the case I would encourage you to look into therapy options. Even if your child does not go on to receive a diagnosis of autism the therapy can only help to develop their skills and is not going to do any harm.

Some books give signs and symptoms of autism in children younger than 2 years of age. These should be viewed with caution as babies are all unique and do different things at different times. Where these signs and symptoms may be useful is in looking back once you have received a diagnosis to see if there were recognizable symptoms early on.

This can be helpful if you are questioning whether something like the MMR injection was responsible for your child's autism. Looking back and realizing that you were able to identify signs of autism early on can help parents to stop blaming themselves for their child's autism. Click here for more information on early signs of autism 

Where to go to get a diagnosis:

As you can see, there is no simple answer to the question "What is autism?". If you suspect that your child may have autism, I would encourage you to seek a diagnosis. Diagnosis is a very useful tool for parents for a number of reasons:

If you have a diagnosis it will mean that your child becomes eligible to access Autism specific services and funding.

Diagnosis also allows parents to understand their child better and provide the most effective therapies and early intervention strategies

For the high functioning children who are struggling to cope in a very challenging world, it can be very helpful for them to know that there is a reason that they are having difficulties. This can help significantly in maintaining self esteem.

To find out about how to obtain an autism assessment click here. 

And finally try to remember that your child has potential even if they receive a diagnosis of Autism, and that there are skills to be developed and progress to be made with the right therapies for your child and support for you as parents.

I hope that this information has been helpful in answering the question "what is autism?" for you and your child.

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