Medical researchers are exploring different
for the various forms of autism.
Although one specific cause of autism is not known, current research links autism to
biological or neurological differences in the brain. MRI ( Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans show abnormalities in the structure of the
brain, with significant differences within the cerebellum, including the size and number of
Purkinje cells. In some families there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities,
which suggests there may be a genetic basis to the disorder, although at this time no one
gene has been directly linked to autism.
Several older theories about the cause of autism
have been now proven false. Autism is
not a mental illness. Children with autism are not unruly kids, who choose not to behave.
Autism is not caused by bad parenting. Furthermore, no known psychological factors in the
development of the child have been shown to cause autism.
There are no medical tests for diagnosing autism.
An accurate diagnosis must be based
on observations of the child's communication, behavior and developmental levels. However,
because many of the behaviors associated with autism are shared by other disorders, a
doctor may complete various medical tests to rule out other possible causes.
Diagnosis is difficult for a practitioner with
limited training or exposure to autism, since
the characteristics of the disorder vary so much. Locating a medical specialist or a
diagnostician who has experience with autism is most important. Ideally a child should
be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team which may include a neurologist, psychologist,
developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant or other
professionals knowledgeable about autism. Several diagnostic tools have been developed
over the past few years to help professionals make an accurate autism diagnosis:
CHAT - Checklist for
Autism in Toddlers CARS - Childhood Autism Rating Scale
PIA - Parent Interviews for Autism GARS - Gilliam Autism Rating Scale
BRIAC - Behavior Rating Instrument for Autistic and other Atypical Children
A brief observation in a single setting cannot
present a true picture of an individual's
abilities and behaviors. At first glance, the person with autism may appear to have
mental retardation, a behavior disorder, or even problems with hearing. However,
it is important also to distinguish autism from other conditions, since an accurate
diagnosis can provide the basis for building an appropriate and effective educational
and treatment program.
From the Autism Society of America's web
'What is Autism?" developed and maintained on behalf of the ASA by Catriona Johnson & Ben Dorman.
Autism Society of America, 7910 Woodmont Ave, Suite 650, Bethesda, MD 20814-3015
tel: 1-800-3AUTISM (301) 657-0881; fax: (301) 657-0869.
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