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The following information provides a brief education on what Autism is, causes,signs & symptoms, as well as a variety of treatment options.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurologic developmental disability that affects individuals of all ages, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds.


Early signs of Autism are typically seen in early childhood and can range from very mild to severe. Individuals affected by Autism often have have significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges, learning differences, and demonstrate problem solving and safety awareness deficits.

Causes & Risk Factors

There is no single known cause for Autism, however it is understood there are a number of factors that may attribute to the growing number of individuals with Autism including biologic, genetic, and environmental factors including, but not limited to the following.

  • Genetics

  • Certain medications taken during pregnancy that have been linked to higher rates of Autism (ex. valproic acid, thalidomide, acetaminophen, etc.)

  • Genetic or chromosomal impairments including tuberous sclerosis and fragile-x syndrome

  • Children born to older parents 

  • Low birth weight

  • Metabolic imbalances 

  • Exposure to excessive heavy metals and environmental toxins 

  • In 1998, a controversial study suggested there was a link between Autism and the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.  This study was later found to be falsely reported.  Since this time, a multitude of comprehensive studies have shown no relation between vaccinations and the risk of Autism.  In 2010, the original study was retracted from all medical journals.  

Signs & Symptoms

There are a number of signs and symptoms of Autism that are typically evident between 12 and 24 months of age, however can occur earlier or later than these ages.


  • One of the first signs typically noted is a delay in language and social development (by 12 months of age children should have 5-7 words, at 18 months 15-25, and by 2 years should have between 50 & 350 words AND be combining 2 words (e.g. shoes on, more juice, mommy go, up daddy, etc.)

  • Given the milestones above, children at these ages should be using these words functionally. This means they would be using the word to label, request repetition, protest, demonstrate pleasure, etc

  • May present with a regression in language. If this occurs consult your pediatrician ASAP as a loss in language can be related to a known seizure disorder that occurs during sleep

  • Has difficulty showing emotion, sharing interests, establishing or maintaining back and forth communication

  • May be unable to make eye contact or doesn't use body language

  • Often has a fixation or preoccupation with one or two items which are often obscure interests for children (eg., fixation on ceiling fans, vacuums, light switches, etc.)

  • Presents with repetitive movements, motions, &/or vocal patterns

  • Does not play with toys for the intended purpose &/or not engage in imaginative play

  • Can be rigid on routine or behaviors and often becomes inconsolably upset when they are not followed or disrupted

  • Is overly sensitive or non-responsive to surroundings such as the reaction to noise, touch, taste, bright lights, smell of items, etc.

  • Has difficulty transitioning between routine or new activities and/or environments

Treatment Options

While there is no known cure for Autism, there are a number of therapies that can support those affected to be better able to access their environments and become more independent. The most common Autism therapy and treatment approaches are:


  • ABA Therapy: ABA therapy helps us understand how an individual learns, how behavior works and how it is affected by real life situations. Treatment predominantly focuses on working in collaboration with your child's speech therapist and occupational therapist to improve communication, develop language, support appropriate social skills, engage in play and age appropriate leisure activities, as well as to perform self-care, gross and fine motor skills. 

  • Change in Diet: Many individuals with Autism have gastrointestinal challenges such as constipation, irregular bowel movements, acid reflux, stomach aches, malabsorption of the nutrients in food, etc. There is growing evidence suggesting the Ketogenic (Keto) Diet is beneficial for individuals with Autism for a multitude of reasons.

  • Feeding & Swallowing Therapy: Many individuals with Autism present with restricted and limited foods they will consume, refuse certain ways food is prepared, are messy eaters, etc. Feeding and Swallowing treatment can support the consumption of a larger variety of meals to ensure proper nutrients are being consumed and families can enjoy meals together!

  • Speech Therapy: Speech Therapy supports an individual's ability to effectively communicate wants, needs and desires, understand information and use functional language to form social relationships. Treatment also targets understanding nonverbal communication such as gestures, verbal and nonverbal social skills, speak more clearly, and in rare cases using technology such as an iPad to "talk."

  • Medications:  Some individuals with Autism present with medical conditions that necessitate prescription and/or holistic medications to support overall health.

  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational Therapy addresses the needs of individuals with Autism that predominantly affect sensory, fine, gross, and visual motor movements. These skills can be impaired and make it difficult to perform daily life skills related to being able to physically access an environment and transition from one to another, as well as skills related to hygiene, feeding, dressing, grooming, and self-care.

Early identification and intensive Autism treatment is critical for the long term success of an individual with Autism. Many therapy programs range from 20-40+ hours a week. The commitment to your child's therapy is well worth the reward of long term success!

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