What is the medical definition of autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder that is defined by behaviors including impaired social interaction, delayed and disordered language, and having isolated areas of interest.
What causes autism?
It was once believed that autism was the result of faulty parenting. However, in l984, Drs. Margaret Bauman and Thomas Kemper reported anatomic abnormalities in the brain of a 29-year-old man with autism studied in comparison to that of an age and sex-matched control. These anatomic abnormalities showed for the first time that that autism is a disorder of brain development, probably beginning before birth. While the cause(s) of autism remain poorly defined, research strongly suggests that genetics play a significant role, and environmental and epigenetic factors may also be involved.
Researching autism in a clinical setting has indicated, over time, that there may be many subtypes of autism. These subtypes are often referred to as the “spectrum” or “Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)” which scales the experience of autism in terms of both appearance and severity.
Autism and the Body
Although much research has been devoted to the study of the brain in autism, it is now becoming evident that in many cases, ASD may be a multi-organ system disorder. We now know that many individuals on the spectrum experience gastrointestinal dysfunction and that there is growing evidence of a possible connection with the immune system. Further, research has determined a possible connection to mitochondrial disorders (energy metabolism). Sleep disorders are fairly common and hormonal imbalances have been reported in some cases.
These and other medical conditions need to be further explored and may help to lay the ground work for clustering ASD into etiological, biological and clinical subtypes, which may then help to provide more specific interventions for these subgroups.
Why support autism research?
While we know that individuals with autism often experience the disorder uniquely, we do not know the disorder etiology. There is still no form of treatment to predictably improve the social, cognitive and behavioral impairments that limit the daily functioning of most kids and adults with autism. Although recent advances have helped us improve the characterization, care, and treatment of individuals with autism, it remains a pervasive and life-long challenge for a majority of those affected. Simply, there is much more work to be done.
The Autism Research Foundation will continue to play a pivotal role in encouraging research agendas and collaborations that will result in a better understanding of the ASDs and will lead to effective interventions and treatments.
Check back soon for an expanding collection of information that we believe will be beneficial.