Autism in the psychologist's office.
Autism in the psychologist’s office.

Did You Know That…  Daryl Hannah has autism?

The film actress was diagnosed with autism as a child, when she is reported to have been shy.  As described below regarding repetitive behaviors, she would rock herself as a way of calming down.  Her parents worked conscientiously with her to help her overcome the symptoms. The talented movie star actually does not prefer the spotlight.

The Condition

Autism.  At first it can be a heartbreak for parents.  …and, it’s a major medical and cultural concern.  Yes, parents are challenged, but there is almost always a way for your child to win.  It’s now recognized as more common.  Much more is known about the condition and more is learned with each passing year.  It’s now possible for most individuals with autism to have childhood go well.  And, for that matter, to have adolescence, adult life, and life generally go well.

The Diagnosis

Many parents are not sure at first.  If you’re not sure but you think your child might be autistic, talk to a trusted and experienced health care provider.  Pursue the autism testing for a diagnosis now.  Shop carefully for the right health care provider and autism care team.  Your child needs an excellent evaluation and the correct diagnosis.

Do It Now

Here’s why you, the parents, need to do this now and not later.  The sooner the diagnosis is made and therapy is started, the better.  The earlier the therapy starts the more neurologically corrective it can be.  Thus, the sooner it starts the better the eventual outcome for your child to grow up well and live life well.  If the diagnosis is autism, your health care provider will pull a whole autism treatment team together.  Then your child can be surrounded by this enriched environment of professionals.

The Clinical Presentation of Autism

In broad outline here’s a picture of an autistic child.  Your child might be very interested in something, though not necessarily interested in what’s immediately around him.  He might do the same thing over and over again in a way that, at least to you, does not seem to make sense.  You talk with him in plain, simple child’s language and you’re not sure that what you’re saying is what he is hearing.  Clearly, at times, he wants or needs something in an emotionally intense way, but it is far from clear what that something is.  On the playground he has a mind of his own, and might or might not connect with the other kids all the time.

Three Important Aspects of Autism

There are three centrally-important areas of behavior in a child with autism:

(1) Does not play well.

(2) Does not speak well, that is, cannot communicate well.  Cannot always say what she wants.

(3) Performs the same action or makes the same sounds over and over.

Diagnosis Based on Clinical Evaluation

The diagnosis of autism is based on behavior and developmental milestones.  A skilled and experienced health care provider can make the diagnosis.  Because of the need to get the diagnosis right, it’s not simple or easy.  Many pieces of information will need to be drawn together, perhaps from diverse sources.  Each child can present a bit differently from others with autism.  Each of the three important behavioral areas above can exist as mild to severe along a graduated spectrum.

Signs of Larger Challenges

There are some clinical signs that a child might have larger hurdles to overcome.  Examples are: times of moderate-to-severe irritability, throwing full-blown tantrums, loud outbursts with fighting, and hurting him/her self.

Autism Touches Every Neighborhood

Autism is an “equal opportunity” neurological condition.  It is seen in all neighborhoods.  Children in the nicer part of town, in the disadvantaged part of town, and all through that big, middle-class (whatever that really is) area.  It can be found in every geographic area around the world and affects every ethnicity, white, black, brown, Native American, everyone. 

Autism Doesn’t Just Go Away

There is a peculiar saying that makes a point, “The only thing that will go away if you ignore it is your teeth.”  Autism doesn’t go away, and certainly does not go away if one ignores it.  Autism is about how the brain within the body is put together.  It is a lifelong condition.

Treatment Helps

Therapy helps.  The well-designed and appropriate therapy helps a lot.  This beneficial therapy started early helps much more.  The therapy needs to be the correct therapy, the best therapy.  The best therapy for each child has to be designed as a treatment plan made just for that child.  The right therapy can make the child’s entire life go better.  More on this in the pages: Therapy for Autism ( and the Treating Autism with Medication (

And Now a Bit of Medical History…

It seems to have started in 1911 with a German psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler.  He invented the term “autism” to name a symptom seen in severe cases of schizophrenia.  He had previously coined the term “schizophrenia” in 1908.  With the seeming symptom disconnect of normal intelligence, often good memory, yet odd behavior, in 1943 the physician Leo Kramer decided this syndrome was “psychiatric” in nature, a type of childhood schizophrenia.  In the 1950s and 60s cold, unemotional mothers were believed to be the cause of childhood schizophrenias.  Many convoluted concepts and theories were developed about autism in the 1960s and 70s with much professional conflict and debate.  Old concepts were thrown out as fast as new ideas were invented.  Finally there emerged a more biological brain-based conceptualization and it was decided that the diagnosis needed a new name, pervasive developmental disorder.  As it became recognized that the condition was not always “pervasive” but could be less severe, in the late 1980s and 1990s a spread of severities from mild to pervasive was conceptualized and informally the field began using the term “spectrum”, that is, a continuum of disability across a range of behaviors, Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The “spectrum” had terms for some of the severity categories.  Asperger’s disorder was mild.  Childhood Disintegrative Disorder was severe.  It all became rather loose in interpretation, lacking the rigor needed to make a good, clear diagnosis.  People remain dissatisfied with the situation.  “Autism” refers to many poorly understood conditions.  The situation has become contentious.

Helpful links:

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health

U. S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Autism Society

Autism Speaks

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