October 20, 2019
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Understanding autism
Posted: July 8, 2009
Last Updated: July 8, 2009

Autism, also called autistic disorder, appears in early childhood, usually before age three. Autism prevents children and adolescents from interacting normally with other people and affects almost every aspect of their social and psychological development. Researches believe that the brains of people with autism function differently than those that are considered “normal.” The brains of people with autism don’t function “wrong”, just differently and this difference can give them a different perspective on the world and their reactions to it.

Not every autistic person is like Dustin Hoffman’s “Rain Man.” Also, autism does not cause everyone to be “idiot savants” able to perform incredible feats of mathematical calculations or memory tricks. They are people just like you and me with different interests and abilities.

Autism has a variety of characteristics ranging on a spectrum from mild to severe in intensity. One child with autism does not behave like another child with the same diagnosis. Children and adolescents with autism typically:

·         Have difficulty communicating with others.

·         Exhibit repetitious behaviors, such as rocking back and forth, head banging, or touching or twirling objects.

·         Have a limited range of interests and activities.

·         May become upset by a small change in their environment or daily routine.

Some children with autism experience hypersensitivity to hearing, touch, smell, or taste. Symptoms of autism can be seen in early infancy, but the condition also may appear after months of normal development. However, it is not possible to identify a specific event that triggers the disorder.


Studies estimate that as many as 12 in every 10,000 children have autism or a related condition, though recent controversial estimates contend the disorder more common. It has been found that autism is three times more common in boys than in girls.


Researchers are unsure about what causes autism. Several studies suggest that autism might be caused by a combination of biological or environmental factors, or both, including viral exposure before birth, a problem with the immune system, or genetics. Many recently published scientific investigations have examined the possible connection between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. At this time, the available data does not support a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Since brain development can be influenced during early childhood, the treatment of autism has a greater chance of success when started as early as possible. When children with autism are treated early, the cost of long-term care may be reduced. Services and treatments that may benefit children and adolescents with autism and their families include:

·         Training in communication, social, learning, and self-help skills.

·         Programs in which other children help to teach children with autism.

·         Parent training.

·         Medications to reduce symptoms related to self-injury, seizures, digestive difficulties, and attention problems.

When services are started soon after a child is diagnosed with autism, the child's language, social, and academic skills and abilities may be greatly improved. On the other hand, some children and adolescents do not respond well to treatment or may experience negative side effects from autism medications.

Parents or other caregivers concerned about a child who shows symptoms of autism should:

·         Talk with a health care provider about their concerns. He or she can help to determine whether the symptoms are caused by autism, a related disorder, or another condition. If necessary, the health care provider can refer the family to a mental health expert who specializes in treating persons with autism.

·         Get accurate information from libraries, hotlines, or other sources.

·         Ask questions about treatments and services.

·         Talk to other families in their communities who are coping with autism.

·         Find family network organizations.

If you would like more information on autism call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.

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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.