What is Autism?

A pervasive developmental disorder, autism affects information processing in multiple ways. Many people with autism have difficulties with social interactions and communication, sensory deficits, and poor motor coordination. Autistic people often have restricted interests and engage in repetitive behaviors.

Because autism's symptoms vary greatly, it's said to exist on a spectrum, and is increasingly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder. (Asperger's is a condition often referred to as "high functioning" autism.) Some people with autism have low intelligence while others are quite intelligent.

Autism usually manifests by age two. It affects far more males than females. The frequency of diagnosis has surged over the past 20 years; it is not clear whether the incidence is truly increasing, whether experts are more alert to it, or whether the diagnosis has shifted to include lesser degrees of impairment. No one knows for sure what causes autism, but numerous studies link it to advanced maternal and/or paternal age at conception increasing the risk of direct genetic mutations or of factors that influence the expression of genes in he developing brain.

Reports implicating mercury-containing vaccines have proved baseless, although there is some evidence that environmental toxins may play a role. Some research suggests that autism reflects an "extreme male brain," because people with the condition often have an obsession with details and systematizing but are low on empathic ability. There is no cure for autism, although some symptoms may ease over the years.

Recent posts on Autism

Swimming: The Key to Extending the Life Span in Autism?

By Mark Borigini M.D. on April 28, 2017 in Overcoming Pain
They may wander toward a body of water, perhaps drawn to the calming effect, touching it and then wading into pools, ponds, or rivers. And some will never wade out.

Scans Reveal Diametric Differences in More Detail

A followup study to a previous one that showed striking diametric differences between autistic and psychotic brains also reveals similarities in the so-called social brain.

Divorce and Autism: Familiarity, Stability, Consistency

Children with autism thrive on familiarity, stability, and consistency. In divorce, work to maintain your child's relationships in the neighbourhood, school, and family.

The Controversy Around Autism and Neurodiversity

April is autism month. For some it's about acceptance. For other's its about awareness. Some want a cure and others just want to be left alone. And What about neurodiversity?

Solitude Is the School of Genius

Great scientists in the past have not only tended to be autistic, but also to be socially isolated.
"Picking Grass at the Bus Stop"/Charlene Croft/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Who Speaks for Autism?

By Barb Cohen on March 31, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
I would not want someone else to speak for me; to decide what I want and what I need; to judge whether my life is worth living. But autism is a family affair. We all need a voice.

Cerebellum Stimulation Influences Frontal Cortex Functioning

Stimulating the cerebellum normalizes frontal cortex activity in lab rats with abnormal dopamine processing, a new study reports. These findings could have many human applications.

Disney Research Pioneers New Frontiers Using Virtual Reality

Walt Disney researchers are fine-tuning virtual reality (VR) technologies that could be used to improve athletic performance and many other "proprioception-based" daily activities.
Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop

Sesame Street and Autism: The PG-Rated "Extras"

By Barb Cohen on March 22, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Young children accept any playmate who is not hostile. It is the parents who usually communicate discomfort, caution or pity, and it is the parents who have the most to learn.
"Lime Butterfly"/giovzaid85/CC BY 2.0

When Is Reimagining the Past a Sign of Emotional Health?

By Barb Cohen on March 17, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
For counterfactual thinking to be functionally beneficial, we need a coherent story of cause and effect that makes us an essential actor in the story.

Harvard Study Finds Genetic ‘Toggle Switch’ for Sociability

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have pinpointed specific neuronal circuitry and a 'toggle switch' that can turn a mouse's sociability "on" and "off" in the laboratory.

The Great Aspie

Loving a partner with Asperger’s can be both challenging and rewarding
Charles Darwin/Public Domain

Why Does Autism Still Exist?

By Barb Cohen on March 07, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Some gene variants associated with autism are also significantly associated with high intelligence. “Smart” genes are advantageous from an evolutionary standpoint, so they persist.

An Autistic Saint?

Modern understanding of autistic spectrum disorders may shed light on the eccentric behavior of the Hindu saint, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

Autism in the South Pacific: A Different Way of Seeing?

By John Elder Robison on February 26, 2017 in My Life With Asperger's
Were Polynesian navigators who settled the Pacific autistic? Americans are used to thinking about autism in the context of disability. Other societies may have seen it different
"drinking water"/darwin Bell/CC BY 2.0

Finding the "Why" of a Special-Needs Child's Behavior

By Barb Cohen on February 23, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Behavior is a form of communication, and more often than not, especially in young children, it is not communicating a desire to be non-compliant or troublesome.

Why Not Circumcise Your Boy? Risk for Autism

By Darcia Narvaez Ph.D. on February 19, 2017 in Moral Landscapes
New research raises new questions.
Erik Hans Krause in employ of WPA/PD-US-not renewed

"Refrigerator Mothering" Is Dead but the Blame Game Lives On

By Barb Cohen on February 16, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
The mother—and now the father too—are still suspect. Suspected of what? Nobody knows for sure, but whatever it is, we are expected to defend ourselves against it.

Early Brain Over-Growth Is Indicative of Autism as Predicted

The imprinted brain theory links brain growth to autism, and a new study confirms the association.

Data, Not Ideology (Part 2)

By Amy S.F. Lutz on February 16, 2017 in Inspectrum
Instead of pushing ideologically-based options, why aren't policy-makers investing in evidence-based approaches to increasing happiness in the severely cognitively disabled?
"Brain Clock"/bzztbomb/CC BY-NC 2.0

Autism, ADHD, and Executive Functioning: Parenting Insights

By Barb Cohen on February 09, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
We have tried visual strategies; we have tried planning discussions; we have tried scripts' we have tried first/then; we have tried IEP goals; and we have tried threats.

What “Counts” for Autism Has Been Dropping: Is That Good?

By David Rettew M.D. on February 08, 2017 in ABCs of Child Psychiatry
Compared to decades past, the diagnosis of autism now encompasses many more children with “milder” behaviors. This likely underlies much of autism’s apparent increase in rate.
"La Mama de los Politos"/Jorge Elias/CC BY 2.0

Incubating a Political Conscience

By Barb Cohen on February 01, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Figuring out when asserting yourself reflects courage and when it reflects imprudence takes, for many of us, a lifetime.

Lessons From Luke Skywalker

By Dean Olsher MA, MT-BC on January 26, 2017 in A Sound Mind
It is a gift to have a common intergenerational reference that embodies the hero’s journey in the character of Luke Skywalker.
Abraham Lincoln/CC BY SA 3.0

Abraham Lincoln Tops List of Famous Jewish Swimmers!

By Barb Cohen on January 23, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
"Famous people with autism" lists are not created primarily to motivate our children. They exist to motivate us adults to adjust our own beliefs about autism.

Ideology, Not Data

By Amy S.F. Lutz on January 22, 2017 in Inspectrum
Some disability advocates and policy makers want to force adults with I/DD into small, dispersed residences. But studies actually suggest size is not the determining factor.

Opposite Genetic Profiles of Autism vs. Schizophrenia

Although both autism and schizophrenia feature symptomatic communication difficulties, genetic profiling reveals them to be opposites as proposed by the diametric model.
"Johnathan Meath as Santa Clause"/Jonathan Meath/CC BY-SA 2.5

Learning to Tell a Lie

By Barb Cohen on January 12, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Lying through your teeth requires more social awareness than most of us appreciate.

No, the Mercury in Vaccines Does Not Cause Autism

By Jordan Gaines Lewis, Ph.D. on January 12, 2017 in Brain Babble
There is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine preservative thimerosal is dangerous, nor that young children's bodies "can't handle" current recommended immunization schedules.

Autism and Screen Time: Special Brains, Special Risks

By Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. on December 31, 2016 in Mental Wealth
Is your gut telling you that your child with autism has too much screen time? Here are 11 reasons why ASD kids are more vulnerable to screen time effects, including addiction.