FAQs: Can My Child Get Better

What is autism? 


Autism is a developmental disability that prevents individuals from properly understanding what they see, hear, and sense. This results in problems with social interactions, communication, and behavior.

How can I tell if my child is autistic? 


Autism is actually a spectrum disorder, meaning that there is a wide range in severity of characteristics that differ for each person.  Characteristics of autism include:

  • Delays in language development varying from no development of speech to peculiar speech patterns and/or the use of words without an attachment to meaning to speaking in a formal or monotone voice.
  • Delays in understanding social relationships including avoidance of eye contact, resistance to being held or picked up, and “tuning out”, leading to the inability to focus or tune in to other people’s feelings.
  • Inconsistent sensory responses – As an example, the child may be unresponsive to sounds at times and at other times become upset with everyday sounds like a car horn or a dog barking.  Sensitivity to light is also experienced by some individuals on the autistic spectrum.
  • Inconsistent patterns of intellectual functioning – A child on the autistic spectrum might be able to do some things quite well such as math computations, drawing, or playing an instrument.  However, the majority of individuals on the autistic spectrum do have some type of intellectual impairment.
  • Limited, obsessive interests including repetitive body movements such as rocking, hand flapping, or twisting to the need to follow a set schedule each day, without variation.

What causes autism? 


Although the cause of autism is still unknown, one thing is certain.  Parenting styles do not cause autism.  A number of factors are being explored including physical damage to the parts of the brain that process language and sensory information, chemical imbalances in the brain, genetic factors, etc.  Most likely, autism may be a result of several factors at once.

Is there a cure for autism? 


There is no known cure for autism.  Fortunately, many developments in the field have recently occurred and there is more hope than ever for autistic individuals.  The key is early evaluation and intervention.  If you have noticed that your baby is not babbling, gesturing or pointing by 12 months, is not producing single words by 16 months, cannot produce two-word spontaneous phrases by 24 months, or has experienced loss of any language and social skills at any age, it is important to see your health care provider. 

If my child is diagnosed with autism, what should I do? 


If diagnosed, network with more experienced parents, therapists, doctors, school officials and others who will be involved in the care of your child.  Try to educate yourself so that you will know what the best treatment options are for your child.  Your primary health care provider is required by law to give you a referral to an early intervention service, so work with that provider to try to find the service best suited for your child. 

What types of treatment programs are there?   


There are several types of intervention programs, although many programs are now incorporating different types of methodologies, instead of strictly following one.  For younger children, the most effective developmental treatment up to this point has been Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which generally focuses on reducing specific problem behaviors and teaching new skills.  Other therapies include sensory integration, which helps the child to obtain sensory information (touch, large and small movement, etc.) and respond more appropriately to that information; Verbal Behavior Analysis, which focuses on teaching specific components of expressive language; and Floortime, focusing on helping children master the building blocks of relating, communicating and thinking.

How can I tell if an early intervention program is effective?


A good early intervention program should be highly structured with direct teacher/child interaction on a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, at least at the beginning when your child starts the program.  Interesting materials should be provided that can hold your child’s attention.  It is also important that modeling opportunities are presented to your child, along with physical prompts.  Visual cues, use of written words, pictures, and visual schedules should also be provided. Social skills should be taught initially by an adult on a 1:1 basis, to be gradually followed up with small group practice with 1 to 2 other children.  There should be minimal distractions in the classroom.  The program should be a minimum of 15 hours a week.  Most importantly, make sure that you are asked to be involved in the process and that the staff makes you feel comfortable when you do get involved. 

How can I best communicate with my child? 


The most important thing is patience.  Remember that your child is not willfully misbehaving but trying to make sense out of his environment.  Be careful about making any changes in your child’s routine.  Autistic individuals in general tend to resist these changes which can prove traumatic for them.  Give your child a choice and let him know what task follows the next. This will give him a sense of control and well-being.

Can my child live independently as an adult? 


Autistic individuals can learn skills to live as independently as possible through specifically designed programs in group homes, supervised apartments, or other residential living options.  With the help of specially trained job coaches, people with autism can learn skills so that they can successfully work in competitive employment, supported employment, or in sheltered workshop programs.   It is also important to seek out quality recreational experiences, in order to practice social skills, make friends, and just enjoy life.