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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Autism Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

Can Childhood Vaccines Cause Autism?

To date, there is no evidence that any vaccine can cause autism or any kind of behavioral disorder. A suspected link between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was suggested by some parents of children with autism, but well-documented wide-ranging studies have discounted any association. One basis for the rejection of the theory is that typically, symptoms of autism are first noted by parents as their child begins to have difficulty with delays in speaking after age one. The MMR vaccine is first given to children at 12 to 15 months of age; autism cases with an apparent onset within a few weeks after the MMR vaccination may simply be an unrelated chance occurrence. 

Speculation that a preservative used in vaccines, thimerosol, is responsible for an increase in autism cases has also led to studies that have shown no evidence of a link.

How Common Is Autism?

Autism and related disorders affect an estimated 1 in 68 children. According to the CDC, more children today are diagnosed with autism than ever before. Experts aren't sure if autism is getting more common or if doctors are just better at diagnosing the disorders.

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

If autism symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical and neurological exam. Although there are no laboratory tests for autism, the doctor may use various tests -- such as X-rays and blood tests -- to determine if there is a physical, genetic, or metabolic disorder causing the symptoms.

If no physical disorder is found, the child may be referred to a specialist in childhood development disorders, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist, pediatric neurologist, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, or another health professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat autism. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the child's level of development, and the doctor's observation of the child's speech and behavior, including his or her play and ability to socialize with others. The doctor often seeks input from the child's parents, teachers, and other adults who are familiar with the child's symptoms.

Subtypes of Autism Include:

  • Autistic disorder
  • Asperger's syndrome
  • Rett syndrome
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder

 

How Is Autism Treated?

There currently is no cure for autism, but treatment may allow for relatively normal development in the child and reduce undesirable behaviors. Children with autism generally benefit most from a highly structured environment and the use of routines. Treatment for autism may include a combination of the following:

  • Special education: Education is structured to meet the child's unique educational needs.
  • Behavior modification: This includes strategies for supporting positive behavior and decreasing problem behaviors.
  • Speech, physical, or occupational therapy: These therapies are designed to increase the child's functional abilities.
  • Social skills therapies : These therapies address language and social pragmatics in those verbal individuals with autism.
  • Medication: There are no medications currently approved to treat autism, but medications may be used to treat certain symptoms, such as anxiety, hyperactivity, sleep disturbance, and other behaviors that may lead to injury.

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