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Volume 1 Published - 14:00 UTC    08:00 EST    28-November-2000      
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Back To Vidyya Facts About Autism

Information For Patients

What is autism?

  • Autism is a complex, life-long, developmental disability that results in social interaction problems, communication difficulties, and restrictive or repetitive interests and behaviors. One in 500 persons might be affected by some form of the disorder.
  • Symptoms of autism are measurable by 18 months of age. Parents and expert clinicians can usually detect symptoms during infancy, although a formal diagnosis is generally not made until the child fails to develop functional language by age two. Autism can be reliably diagnosed by or before age three. Approximately 20 percent of children with autism reportedly experience a "regression;" that is, they have apparently normal development followed by a loss of communication and social skills.
  • Boys are three-to-four times more likely to be affected by autism than girls. Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups.
  • Although there is currently no known cure for autism, autism is treatable. Persons with autism can make progress if they receive appropriate, individual intervention. Pre-school children who receive intensive, individualized, behavioral interventions show remarkable progress. In addition, limited pharmacological interventions are available to treat specific symptoms of autism.

What causes autism?

  • In the majority of cases, no specific underlying cause can be identified. A variety of factors are associated with increased incidence of some forms of autism. These include infectious, metabolic, genetic, neurological, and environmental factors.
  • A working group convened by the NIH in 1995 reached a consensus that autism probably results from a genetic susceptibility that involves multiple genes.
  • To date, genetic causes for one disorder commonly accompanying autism and one autism-spectrum disorder have been identified-Fragile X and Rett Syndrome, respectively-and genetic "hotspots" for more classic autism have been indicated. Fragile X is the most common, genetically inherited form of mental retardation currently known and produces many of the same behaviors and symptoms as autism. Rett Syndrome, which affects only girls, is a progressive brain disease that produces a loss of language/social skills that is similar to autism and is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD).
  • NIH research on possible genetic, infectious, immunological, neurological, and environmental causes and mechanisms of autism is underway. More research is needed, particularly in the areas of normal immune system development and regression.

Is there a relationship between autism and vaccines?

  • To date there is no conclusive evidence that any vaccine increases the risk of developing autism or any other behavior disorder.
  • Studies show no causal association between the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine (or other measles-containing vaccines) and autism. In January 1990, the Institute of Medicine concluded that there was no evidence to indicate a causal relationship between autism and the diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis (DTP) vaccine or the pertussis component of the DTP vaccine.
  • Currently, no study provides definitive evidence of an association between autism and vaccines. However, continued research is needed to examine the mechanisms of autism and any possible relationship to vaccines.
  • Research is needed on the identification of individuals who may have a particular susceptibility to adverse effects from one or more components of the vaccine and on the optimal timing and number of vaccines for such individuals.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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