The cause of autism is not completely unknown. Autistic behaviors are rooted in brain structure. Just as the interior of a house is divided up into rooms for specialized purposes, the sections of the brain each perform a specialized role. As brain structures develop, personality begins to take form. Certain combinations of these structural features are known to occur in people who have an autism spectrum disorder. Researchers are developing MRI-based diagnosis procedures that will eventually replace the tests currently in use.
What is still not understood is the reason some brains develop autism related brain structures. Genetics is known to play a role, that is, people who are autistic are more likely to have children who are autistic, but what triggers that autism gene to activate is subject of intense study and debate. One common discussion revolves around heavy metal poisoning and vaccines. These have been summarily dismissed by the medical community, as studies have universally shown no link (with the exception of one, which turned out to be fraudulent). There are a number of other ideas discussed on the internet, including one based on studies showing a potential connection to autoimmune diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis or Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Autism is currently diagnosed in children primarily by developmental pediatricians. Diagnosis usually involves an interview with the child by the specialist and observed play and human interactions. Formal diagnosis is rare in adults. Many adults discover they are autistic when their children are diagnosed or via their own research.
There is no specific therapy or pharmaceutical treatment for autism as a whole. There are drugs and therapies available for specific symptoms which patients can discuss with their doctors and school staff.
Autism is frequently accompanied by other ailments such as fragile X syndrome, epilepsy, and allergies or sensitivities to gluten, dairy, or a myriad of other substances. These co-morbid conditions are not themselves symptoms of autism, but frequently accompany autism.
Public schools are required by federal law to provide an adequate education to autistic children. It is important for the parent to understand the specific needs of autistics. Autistics are usually neither savants nor mentally retarded. They typically have at least an average IQ, frequently higher than average. They learn in a different way from traditional students. Alternative educational techniques can include sensory learning, occupational therapy, speech therapy, water therapy, and more, often provided by the public school to preschoolers at no cost to the parent. Sometimes, with early intervention, and with supports in place and teachers aids on staff, an autistic student will eventually integrate with the other children their age in their own grade with no obvious signs that the child is autistic.
Autistics, particularly those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, are sometimes be thought of as non-emotional. Asperger’s does not turn off the emotions, however, but instead causes a great deal of difficulty for the individual to identify their emotions and express them appropriately. This can result in any emotion, whether it is good or bad, causing feelings of stress. The elevated stress can lead to stress-related illness such as anxiety or depression.
Autistics will often appear emotionally immature. It can be disorienting for loved ones to see someone very mature in many areas of life and very naive or immature in their dealings with other people. With training or therapy these difficulties can be overcome.
People with autism are capable of living happy, healthy lives when they receive a proper education. They are fully capable of being contributing members of society.