What is Autism or Autistic disorder?
Autism is the most severe of the PDDs. People with autism have differences in the development of their thinking, language, behavior and social skills. The differences appear before age three, and can be diagnosed by 18 months. To be considered autistic, a child must have a certain number of symptoms in the areas of social interaction, communication (meaning a language delay), and a restricted range of behaviors, activities and interests (often called stereotypic behaviors). If you think your child may have these traits, see a specialist right away. Read on to find out more.

What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)?
PDD-NOS is also called atypical autism or mild autism. It means having differences in the same areas as in autism, only not to such a great extent. A child with PDD-NOS does not meet the criteria for any specific PDD.

How common is autism?
Autism/PDD occurs in about 1 in 125 births. It is four times more common among boys than girls. Autism is found all through the world in families of all racial, ethnic and social backgrounds. According to a recent study in California, the number of cases of autism is on the rise. This is probably a national trend.

What causes Autism?
Current research suggests that differences in the development of the brain and central nervous system cause autism. What causes these differences in brain development is not known for sure. However, a variety of factors are being investigated. These include infectious, metabolic, genetic, and environmental factors. A 1995 National Institutes of Health (NIH) working group reached a consensus that autism probably results from a genetic susceptibility that involves multiple genes. To date, genetic causes for one disorder commonly accompanied by autism (Fragile X) and one autism-spectrum disorder (Rett syndrome) have been identified and genetic “hotspots” for autism have been found. NIH research on possible genetic, infectious, immunological, and environmental causes and mechanisms of autism continues.

• Find out more about the research the NIH is conducting on autism, including how to take part in these studies.

Do vaccines cause Autism?
Research continues on vaccines and autism, and so far does not point to a connection between them. Here are some helpful resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

• What Parents Should Know About Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) Vaccine and Autism
• What Parents Should Know About Thimerosal
• MMR and autism resources

How are Autism spectrum disorders diagnosed?
Your general pediatrician may hesitate to diagnose autism earlier than age three. But you may suspect a problem as early as 18 months. Go with your gut feeling, no matter what your child’s regular doctor says. Language and hearing concerns are the most usual first signs. If your child is not developing language or is losing language, does “not hear you” a lot of the time, or does not share interest in things with you, you should have your child evaluated. Many children can be reliably diagnosed at 18 months old – and the earlier the diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment. Take your child to a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, pediatric psychiatrist, or pediatric neurologist. They are experts in diagnosing autism, and can help you figure out the best treatment plan. An alternative to seeing a specialist is to go to your school system.

What treatments are there for autism?
The most important thing is to start treatment as early and intensively as possible! If you are concerned about your child’s development, check out First Signs, a website with information and resources for early identification and intervention for children with developmental delays and disorders. There is no cure for autism, but early and intensive treatment can help children with autism improve their communication and social skills. Treatment may include support and facilitation, behavior modification, educational therapy, and medicine. It is most important to start treatment as early as possible, and make sure it involves lots of one-on-one interaction with your child.

The National Research Council’s Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism has published Educating Children with Autism. It is a publication of the results of a committee of experts from many different fields who got together to look at research and policy. They have created a “map” to guide the education of young children (birth to age eight) with autistic spectrum disorders. A section entitled “Characteristics of Effective Interventions,” on page 6 of the Executive Summary of the report, states [1]: “The consensus across programs is generally strong concerning the need for: early entry into an intervention program; active engagement in intensive instructional programming for the equivalent of a full school day, including services that may be offered in different sites, for a minimum of 5 days a week with full-year programming; use of planned teaching opportunities, organized around relatively brief periods of time for the youngest children (e.g. 15- to 20-minute intervals); sufficient amounts of adult attention in one-to-one or very small group instruction to meet individualized goals. Overall, effective programs are more similar than different in terms of levels of organization, staffing, ongoing monitoring, and the use of certain techniques, such as discrete trial, incidental learning, and structured teaching periods. However, there are real differences in philosophy and practice that provide a range of alternatives for parents and school systems.”