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What Causes Autism?

 Medical  researchers are exploring different  explanations 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.


How is Autism Diagnosed?

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 page [] entitled
                             '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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