Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Autism?

Autism Speaks’ multi-year Ad Council public service advertising campaign stresses the importance of recognizing the early signs of autism and seeking early intervention services. Recent research confirms that appropriate screening can determine whether a child is at risk for autism as young as one year. While every child develops differently, we also know that early treatment improves outcomes, often dramatically. Studies show for example, that early intensive behavioral intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.

2. What causes Autism?

Not long ago, the answer to this question would have been “we have no idea.” Research is now delivering the answers. First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. Research has identified more than a hundred autism risk genes. In around 15 percent of cases, a specific genetic cause of a person’s autism can be identified. However, most cases involve a complex and variable combination of genetic risk and environmental factors that influence early brain development.
In other words, in the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of non-genetic, or environmental, influence further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these environmental risk factors involves events before and during birth. They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy, extreme prematurity and very low birth weight and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. Mothers exposed to high levels of pesticides and air pollution may also be at higher risk of having a child with ASD. It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.
A small but growing body of research suggests that autism risk is less among children whose mothers took prenatal vitamins (containing folic acid) in the months before and after conception.

3. What are the common signs of Autism in children?

– No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter

– No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months

– No babbling by 12 months

– No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months

– No words by 16 months

– No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months

– Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

4. What is an Individual Education Program i.e. an IEP?

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a written document that outlines a child’s education. As the name implies, the educational program should be tailored to the individual student to provide the maximum benefit. The key word is individual. A program that is appropriate for one child with autism may not be right for another.
The IEP is the cornerstone for the education of a child with a disability. It should identify the services a child needs so that he/she may grow and learn during the school year. It is also a legal document that outlines:
The child’s special education plan (goals for the school year)
Services needed to help the child meet those goals
A method for evaluating the student’s progress
The objectives, goals and selected services are not just a collection of ideas on how the school may educate a child; the school district must educate your child in accordance with the IEP.
To develop an IEP, the local education agency officials and others involved in the child’s educational program meet to discuss education-related goals. By law, the following people must be invited to attend the IEP meeting:
One or both of the child’s parents
The child’s teacher or prospective teacher
A representative of the public agency (local education agency), other than the child’s teacher, who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education
The child, if appropriate
Other individuals at the discretion of the parent or agency (e.g. a physician, advocate, or neighbor)
IEP meetings must be held at least once annually, but may be held more often if needed. Parents may request a review or revision of the IEP at any time. While teachers and school personnel may come prepared for the meeting with an outline of goals and objectives, the IEP is not complete until it has been thoroughly discussed and all parties agree to the terms of the written document.
Parents are entitled to participate in the IEP meeting as equal participants with suggestions and opinions regarding their child’s education. They may bring a list of suggested goals and objectives as well as additional information that may be pertinent to the IEP meeting.
The local education agency must attempt to schedule the IEP meeting at a time and place agreeable to both school staff and parents. School districts must notify parents in a timely manner so that they will have an opportunity to attend. The notification must indicate the purpose of the meeting (i.e., to discuss transition services, behavior problems interfering with learning, academic growth).
Parents may encounter stipulations presented by school personnel that may not necessarily be supported by the provisions the laws but are in accordance with the children’s over-all graphs. Some statements have included:
IEPs must be a predetermined number of pages.
IEPs are to be completed without parental input and only a certain number of goals and objectives are allowed in the IEP.
The IEP for each child may or may not differ from one another.
There is nothing in the federal law that supports these types of statements or rules. But while parents should not accept misinformation concerning the IEP, you don’t need to approach the parent/school relationship in an adversarial manner. It is in everyone’s best interest to remember that parents and teachers share a common goal: to develop a program that will be appropriate for the child with autism. By sharing information and knowledge, parents and schools can collaborate to develop a truly effective IEP.

5. How did my child develop Autism?

Research suggests that the development of autism is rooted in very early brain development. However, in most cases, no one cause can be identified. Research has identified several genes that can cause autism in and of themselves. These account for about 15 percent of cases of autism spectrum disorders. Research has identified more than 100 genes or gene changes (mutations) that increase the risk that a child will develop autism. In most cases, genetics alone can’t distinguish why one person has autism and another does not. Gene-environment interactions appear to be at play. When scientists use the term “environment,” they are referring to a wide range of non-genetic factors. Those most associated with increased autism risk include advanced parental age at time of conception and prematurity with very low birth weight. Other possible environmental risk factors include maternal diabetes or infection during pregnancy and certain birth complications, particularly those that may involve oxygen deprivation to a baby’s brain. Autism Speaks continues to fund a wealth of studies on the causes of autism, including research on gene-environment interactions that may increase autism risk. You can explore these and other studies using our Grant Search.

6. Are Vaccines to blame?

Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.

7. How can I tell if my child has Autism?

Though autism cannot be definitively diagnosed until around 18 to 24 months, research shows that children as young as 8 to 12 months may exhibit early signs. Parents should look for symptoms such as no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months; no babbling or back-and-forth gestures (e.g. pointing) by 12 months; or any loss of babbling, speech or social skills at any age.

8. What should I do if I suspect something is wrong with my child?

Don’t wait. Talk to your doctor or contact your state’s Early Intervention Services department about getting your child screed for autism. Research has consistently shown that early diagnosis and intervention offer the best chance for improving function and maximizing a child’s progress and outcomes.

9. What if I suspect that I have Autism?

Many persons with Asperger syndrome or other high-functioning forms of autism never received a diagnosis as a child. They may be diagnosed as adults when seeking help for related problems at work or in their social lives. Consider asking your physician for a referral to an appropriate specialist. Professionals qualified to make an adult autism diagnosis include licensed clinical psychologists, neurologists and psychiatrists. Some nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers and master’s level psychologists likewise have the expertise to diagnose autism in adults.

10. Will my child be able to attend school?

Absolutely. In fact, it’s a child’s right: According to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990, your child deserves access to a “free and appropriate” education funded by the government, whether it be in a mainstream or special education classroom and you, in all possibilities must support their education.