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 increasing 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. No one knows for sure what causes autism, but numerous studies link it to advanced maternal and/or paternal age at conception.

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 systemizing but are low on empathizing ability. There is no cure for autism, although some symptoms may ease over the years.

Recent posts on Autism

Special-Needs Parenting and the Lowerarchy: Part Two

By Barb Cohen on December 04, 2016 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
The lowerarchy is more than a boundary; it is an edifice of alternating comfort and despair, always at the expense of other people and their children.
Looking downward/Barb Cohen

The Lowerarchy of Special-Needs Parenting

By Barb Cohen on November 27, 2016 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Instead of using the rhetoric of “better than,” we shift to “not as bad-off as,” as in “my kid is not as bad-off as yours. "We’ve created a lowerarchy.

The Diametrics of Personal Space: Autism vs. Schizophrenia

New research into the sense of personal space.

The Man in the Moon: Faces and Autism

By Robert J King Ph.D. on November 23, 2016 in Hive Mind
A new study into autism reveals something of what it is like to experience the world this way, and offers a possible early test of the condition.

Prehistoric Languages… and Prehistoric Minds? Part II

The linguistic mind of our great, great [...] great grandparents
"Copenhagen broken bike"/Jens Cramer/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

"Mom, Am I Disabled?"

By Barb Cohen on November 18, 2016 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Identifying a person as disabled entails locking that person into a world of very limited expectations. Having a disability describes all of us.

How Does Brain Symmetry Influence the Workings of Your Mind?

By Christopher Bergland on November 18, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
Is symmetry between the 'left brain-right brain' a good thing? It depends. New research suggests that a blend of symmetry and asymmetry between various brain regions may be ideal.

Autism Employment: The Importance of Mentors

By Chantal Sicile-Kira on November 17, 2016 in The Autism Advocate
If your child appears to have skills or a real interest in a specific area, someone who works in that field can help the child realize the application of his interests.
Reading bedtime stories with Sean-bear/ktbuffy/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When May We Change the Topic From the Election?

By Barb Cohen on November 13, 2016 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
We will want the predictability of our routines. Even the meltdowns will reassure us that our own small corner of the world is recognizable—and still needs tending.

Can One Be Autistic and Bipolar at the Same Time?

Co-occurrence of autism and bipolar disorder seems ruled out by the diametric model until you realize that different mental modules and brain centres may be involved in each.
Maggie Bartlett/NHGRI

"No Thanks" to This Line of Autism Research

By Barb Cohen on November 04, 2016 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
My family’s DNA is a coveted commodity. Our older daughter is autistic, and researchers want our blood and saliva. Once upon a time I would have happily donated. Not now.

Autism, Violence, and the Media

By Jill Del Pozzo, MA, and Lindsay Cherneski, MA on November 03, 2016 in Fractured Minds
There is no scientific evidence that autism, by itself, increases the risk of violence. In fact, individuals with ASD are less likely to engage in criminal behavior.

Autism and Psychosis Can Cancel Out in Bipolar Disorder

The first study to assess the expression of autistic and schizotypal traits in adults with bipolar disorder confirms counter-intuitive predictions of the diametric model.

DSM-5 Diagnoses in Kids Should Always Be Written in Pencil

By Allen J Frances M.D. on October 31, 2016 in Saving Normal
Accurate diagnosis in kids is tough and time consuming. Misdiagnosis in kids is easy and fast- but the harms can last a lifetime.

Martial Arts Training Can Help Autism

By E. Paul Zehr Ph.D. on October 29, 2016 in Black Belt Brain
Evidence shows that martial arts training--and activities like horseback riding--focused on physical and mental integration can be effective in improving communication in autism.

Personality and the Brain, Part 7

After his injury, music literally draws Derek Amato's attention away from other tasks he has to perform.

Bring on the "Inspiration Porn"

By Amy S.F. Lutz on October 19, 2016 in Inspectrum
Do stories of compassion and consideration objectify the disabled? In fact, we celebrate connection between different people all the time, as we should.

Antidepressants Are Safe During Pregnancy

By Temma Ehrenfeld on October 14, 2016 in Open Gently
It's okay to take antidepressants while pregnant—and essential if you are severely depressed.

Parental Age & Mental Illness: The Maternal Dimension

The biggest and most comprehensive study of the effects of parental age on offspring mental illness confirms counter-intuitive predictions of the imprinted brain theory.

13 Warning Signs of Mental Illness in a Child

By Susan Newman Ph.D. on September 30, 2016 in Singletons
Nearly one in five children is affected with an emotional or behavioral disorder. A new book helps parents recognize such problems and find help.

The Cerebellum May Drive Sex Distinction in Our Social Brain

By Christopher Bergland on September 29, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
How do sex differences play a role in the development of our social brain? A new study on specific neurons in the cerebellum (Latin for "little brain") offers some valuable clues.

The Bacteria That Mold Your Brain

By Jordan Gaines Lewis, Ph.D. on September 28, 2016 in Brain Babble
New research shows that the microbiome plays a huge role in our behavior. Can changing our diet become a new health treatment?

How Do You Tell a Teenager That He Has Autism?

By Ugo Uche on September 24, 2016 in Promoting Empathy With Your Teen
Apparently, most teens who have not been educated on autism, view autism as a form of intellectual impairment which they have come to associate with social stigma.

Your Left Cerebellar Hemisphere May Play a Role in Cognition

By Christopher Bergland on September 17, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
Traditionally, the cerebellum has been considered a "non-thinking" part of our brain. However, a new study reports that specific cerebellar brain regions are involved in cognition.

Listen To Your Heart

By Gaby Pfeifer, Ph.D. on September 14, 2016 in Mind Growth
Our ability to listen to internal bodily signals, such as our heartbeat, is known as interoception. How does interoception contribute to our emotional experiences?

Failing at Psychotherapy a Second Time

How do we figure out which therapies work with whom and why?

Being Autistic at the Bottom of the World

By John Elder Robison on September 10, 2016 in My Life With Asperger's
Attitudes about autism vary greatly around the world.

Education, Not Exploitation

By Amy S.F. Lutz on September 08, 2016 in Inspectrum
Not all kids with I/DD can succeed in an academic environment. Why we need more options and less judgment.

The 8-Ball from Hell of ASD: Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a dilemma with two prongs: the self-imposed need to get things exactly right, and self-inflicted criticism in the face of inevitable failure.

My Child Has Been Referred for Special Ed Testing: Now What?

By Stephen Camarata Ph.D. on September 06, 2016 in The Intuitive Parent
Special education testing can be a bewildering process. Here's what you can do to help your child.