What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The term “Autism has been around for a little over 100 years now. It was first used by Eugene Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist to describe a group of symptoms of schizophrenia. However, now Autism is not associated with the term of schizophrenia.

The term Autism comes from the Greek word “autos”, which means “self.” It conveys the “isolated self” that comes with Autism.

Autism is a term used to describe five different complex brain development disorders that affect a person’s social and communication skills, along with possibly their learning ability. When someone has autism, it means that different parts of their brain are not working properly together.

Autism as a term has a developed since first being used, but the most recent update came in 2013 when DSM-5 Diagnostic manual merged PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delay – Not Otherwise Specified), Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder all under the term Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Autism begins very early in brain development, but often you won’t see major symptoms until the ages of 2 to 3 years old. However, you can detect Autism with a specific type of screening at year one. This is a new screening and is just beginning to get worked into infants regular checkups at the doctor’s office.

ASD can begin very early in someone’s life, but since there is no cure, it lasts throughout a person’s life. However, a lot of research is being done and put together to alleviate people’s symptoms. You can learn more on that by checking out our guide “10 Best Ways to Improve Your Child’s Autistic Symptoms."






How Common is Autism?

Autism is one of the fastest growing development disorders in the U.S. with 1 in 68 American children being diagnosed with it according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are 3 million people in the United States with Autism and tens of millions worldwide with it.

This is a 1,000% increase in the last 40 years, with research showing that it can only partially be explained by better diagnosis and awareness.

Autism is four to five more common in boys than it is in girls, with the diagnosis being 1 in every 42 boys and 1 in every 189 girls. When it comes to siblings, there is only a 3-10% chance that non-twins will both be affected. However, with identical twins, if one has autism, then the other has an 80-90% chance of being diagnosed. For non-identical twins, the chances that both have Autism are the same as non-twin siblings at 30-10%.

Do We Know What Causes Autism?

At this point, we don’t have an exact cause for autism. One reason for this is that Autism is a larger term that includes different brain disorders, so there’s not one cause.

However, the latest research is showing there is a genetic and environmental component to being diagnosed with Autism.

Researchers have found that there are over 100 gene mutations that will increase a child’s risk of being Autistic. There are only a few of these genes that can cause Autism on their own.

Only 15% of cases of ASD are caused by just genetics. The other 85% are a combination of someone have a genetic predisposition and environmental factors.

The most evident environmental factors that attribute to Autism are:

  • Older parental age at the time of conception (of both parents)
  • The mother getting ill during pregnancy
  • Difficulties that arise during the birth
  • The baby not getting enough Oxygen to their brain

There are things Mother’s can do during pregnancy to reduce the risk of her child getting Autism. One of which is to make sure she gets at least 600 mpg a day of folic acid, whether that is through prenatal vitamins or whole foods.

There are Different Degrees of Autism

There is a reason the term “spectrum” is used while talking about autism. There is a big variance in how Autism affects people and what symptoms they have. For example, 40% of those diagnosed with Autism have average to above average intellectual abilities. The other 60% can vary from slight learning disabilities to heavy learning disabilities.

Another example is that one-third of children diagnosed with Autism are non-verbal.

Some children who are diagnosed with Autism are high-functioning with just some slight social and communication struggles. Before the merging of the terms in 2013, they would have been diagnosed with Aspergers.

While having a child being diagnosed with Autism can be scary, it’s important to know that there are lots of resources, treatments, and new research being done to help alleviate symptoms. While some symptoms can be problematic, a few symptoms can give children with Autism a special perspective on the world.

A few of the best things we can do as a society to help out is to become more aware of Autism and to become better educated.