What is Autism?

April is International Autism Awareness Month, and at Florida Child Neurology we see a great number of patients who fall somewhere along the vast spectrum of Autism. Autism is often a misunderstood condition, and many people do not understand the complexities involved with both diagnosing and treating an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some of the most common questions are: What is Autism? What are the symptoms of Autism? How is Autism treated What does the future hold for our Autistic child? To answer those questions we turned to Dr. Carl Barr, D.O. of Florida Child Neurology to help shed some light on the mystery of Autism.


Autism is a neuro-behavioral disorder affecting three major areas of function.  Those three areas are communication, social interactions and the third area is repetitive behaviors and/or restricted interests.  Autism is typified by abnormal developmental and social behavior.  At present, the cause of Autism is unknown.


There are multiple signs, but the biggest things we hear from parents is that they notice their child does not seem to be appropriate in their interaction.  Even from an early age, their child may not study their faces; their child may not respond to normal speech stimuli; their child may not respond to pain; or that their child may not show interest in other people. So there are a lot of signs that are noticed. By the time the child gets to be a year old, parents should have a pretty good idea about whether or not their child’s communication skills are developing appropriately. Most often it is that inappropriate social interaction piece which gets parents’ attention. There are other signs, such as poor eye contact, but they tend to be not quite as reliable.


Identifying the potential for an Autistic Spectrum Disorder early—the earlier the better, means that you are going to start addressing the challenges of Autism through behavioral and other types of therapies such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. These are the things that make the biggest difference. Over the last 2 decades the focus in Autism has been to identify early and get them into appropriate therapies early, because nothing else we’ve been able to find, reliably makes a difference in the outcomes of these children. So what we know now is that earlier involvement seems to stimulate development in parts of the brain which are affected by Autism, and even if the children do not ultimately fully adjust, they do better than they would have had they not had that early exposure. The goal is to have the children become fully functional members of society, and we are makings steps towards that. However, because Autism is not a unified diagnosis—that has several contributing factors, it is hard to have a clear therapy for treatment, but we do know that kids do better with early intervention.


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