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

Autism – The Sorrows and Joys

Autism. It’s a medical diagnosis that parents both welcome and dread hearing. As those early months roll by and the doctor’s milestones are delayed, the fear arises, is something wrong. So the testing starts, and when the tests results come back autism… At first it can be a heartbreak for parents. But there is a huge relief of sorts to know what it is, to know that somebody knows what it is, and maybe can do something to help. It’s a major medical and cultural concern. Yes, parents are challenged. But the more they learn the more they realize that there’s almost always a way for their child to win. Autism is common and most everyone knows what it is. Much more is known about the condition and more is learned with each passing year.

The Autism Diagnosis

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. Understandably, many parents are not sure at first. If you’re not sure but you think your child might have autism, talk to a trusted and experienced doctor. Get the testing done and get the diagnosis as soon as possible. Shop carefully for the pediatrician and autism care team. Your child needs the best possible evaluation and you have to have the correct diagnosis.

Do It Now – We’re Serious, Don’t Wait, Don’t Dally

Here’s why you, the parents, need to do this now and not later. The sooner the diagnosis is made and the therapies is started, the better. The earlier the therapeutic team starts their work the more they will be able to make the situation medically right. This means that the sooner the therapies start the better the eventual outcome for your child to grow up well and live life well. If the diagnosis is autism, your doctor will pull a whole autism treatment team together. Then your child can be surrounded and helped by this enriched environment of trained professionals.

What a Child with Autism Looks Like Behaviorally

As an overview (not specific on every detail) here’s the picture of a child with autism. 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 still not sure that what you’re saying is what he’s hearing. Clearly, at times, he wants or needs something in an emotionally intense way, but it’s 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) Doesn’t not play well.
(2) Doesn’t speak well, that is, can’t say what they need or what they mean.
(3) Performs the same action or makes the same sounds over and over.

How the Doctor Makes the Diagnosis of Autism

To make a diagnosis of autism the doctor looks at how your child behaves and at “developmental milestones”, things a child usually does at a certain age. Some additional specific testing might be needed. A skilled and experienced doctor can make the diagnosis. Because the doctor has to get the diagnosis right, it’s not quick and easy. She needs to pull together a lot of information. Each child can be a bit different from others with autism. Each of the three important behavioral areas above can exist as mild-to-severe, giving the medical condition a different appearance.

Signs of Larger Challenges

The doctor might see some behaviors that show that a child might have some larger hurdles to overcome. Examples are: times of moderate-to-severe irritability, throwing full-blown tantrums, loud outbursts with fighting, and hurting himself/herself.

Autism Touches Every Neighborhood

Autism is an “equal opportunity” medical condition. It’s 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. We’re all in this together.

Autism Doesn’t Just Go Away

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

Treatment Helps a Lot

The therapies that are used to treat autism help. Based on the needs of each specific child a treatment program is designed. When the treatment program is carried out the improvement can be remarkable. And the earlier in the child’s life that the therapies start, the more they help. A treatment program needs to be individually designed because the therapies need to be the correct therapies, the best therapies. The best therapy for each child has to be designed as a treatment plan made just for that child. The right therapy started early can make the child’s entire life go better. More on this in the pages: Therapy for Autism and Treating Autism with Medication.

Helpful links:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke on Autism

The National Institute of Mental Health on Autism Spectrum Disorder

US National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus on Autism Spectrum Disorder

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Society on Autism

Autism Speaks on Autism

Creating a Sensory Friendly Home for Autism (recommended by

And Now a Bit of Medical History… 

The concept of autism seems to have started in 1911 with German psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. He invented the term “autism” to name a symptom he saw in severe cases of schizophrenia. He had previously invented the term “schizophrenia” in 1908. The symptom of autism didn’t make sense to him. The children had normal intelligence, often a good memory, yet odd behavior. In 1943 the physician Leo Kramer decided this syndrome was “psychiatric” in nature, a type of childhood schizophrenia (which was wrong). In the 1950s and 60s cold, unemotional mothers were believed to be the cause of these “childhood schizophrenias”. Many twisted concepts and theories were developed about autism in the 1960s and 70s (most of them wrong) with much professional conflict and debate. Old ideas were thrown out as fast as new ideas were thought up. Finally it became more clear as a medical disorder, a biological brain-based condition. To get away from this wrong idea of schizophrenia it was given a new name, pervasive developmental disorder. As time went by doctors realized that this medical condition was not always “pervasive” but could be far less severe. In the late 1980s and 1990s doctors began to think of a range from mild to severe and started saying there was a spectrum of illness. Then started the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. This “spectrum” had terms for some of the categories. Asperger’s disorder was considered to be mild. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder was severe. It all became rather loose in interpretation, lacking the rigor needed to make a good, clear diagnosis. To this day most doctors remain unhappy with the situation. “Autism” refers to many poorly understood conditions.

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