While there are many reasons autism feels like a “new” disease, such as increased awareness and new classifications, it has actually been documented in medical history since the 1900s. Today, the CDC says that about 1 in 68 children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.
With the increased focus on the disease, we have learned a lot, and we’re learning more every day. While there’s much more work to be done, there have been great breakthroughs in our understanding of autism and how to treat it.
Here are five things we’ve learned about autism in recent years:
1. We know, yes know, that autism is not caused by vaccines, but what does cause it remains unknown. Scientists, however, are gathering more clues, and it’s becoming clear there’s a genetic link. Researchers have identified a pool of genes that may be risk factors for the disorder.
It makes sense as research shows that if one twin is on the spectrum the other twin is more likely to be on the spectrum as well (77 percent for identical twins and 31 percent for fraternal twins), and parents who have a child with autism have a 2 percent to 18 percent chance of having another child on the spectrum.
2. While there is likely no one cause for autism, other things that have been found to have an association with autism include a father of advanced age and mothers who take certain medications during pregnancy, such as valproate (used for the treatment of epilepsy and other neuropsychological disorders). A recent study found a link between autism and a lack of a protein the brain.
3. Autism affects individuals in a variety of ways. As the saying goes, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person.” However, in Ireland, scientists were recently able to identify a part of the brain that may be affected by autism — the part that responds “when someone else finds something surprising.” While other studies have suspected the same, this is the first study to show it clearly. Researchers say the impact of this find could lead to new therapies and drugs for people with autism.
4. While there are varying degrees of autism and treatments that work for some and not others, one thing that has proven effective across the board is early intervention. Not only has early intervention proven extremely effective in increasing language skills, social interaction and even improving IQs in children, it has also been shown to erase the signs of the disorder all together in some cases.
5. There is no cure for autism but there is an array of treatments in addition to early intervention that can help maximize a child’s abilities. They include educational therapies, family therapies, and medications that may help control symptoms. While years ago people with autism were institutionalized, today many lead full, rewarding lives. From athletics to college and careers, people with autism are doing it all.