April Is Autism Acceptance Month – What Is Autism?

April Is Autism Acceptance Month – What Is Autism?

The phrase autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a spectrum of conditions involving the development of the nervous system. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines the word “spectrum” to cover a set of conditions and differences in the severity and type of symptoms. ASD includes Asperger syndrome.

ASD is classified by the 11th International Classification of Diseases as involving the following:

  • Trouble beginning and sustaining two-way social communication
  • Repetitive or restricted behavior which is unusual for the person’s situation or age

ASD is often diagnosed during early childhood. However, its symptoms may appear later, especially when social interaction increases.

ASD-related deficits can lead to problems in family, personal, occupational, educational and social situations. People diagnosed with ASD can range from being gifted and independent to being very needy and challenged, requiring long-term support and intervention.

Doctors can detect and diagnose ASD before the age of two, but diagnoses sometimes occur much later, and can occur during adulthood. Some people with ASD whose conditions have been overlooked may suffer social exclusion as well as coexisting physical and mental conditions when social interaction becomes important. People with ASD can suffer from long-term issues such as problems initiating and sustaining relationships, maintaining jobs, managing schedules, as well as hypersensitivities to textures, noises, foods, etc.

How Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Classified?

The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases describes ASD as being characterized by persistent issues with initiating and sustaining reciprocal social communication and social interaction. ASD involves inflexible, repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior, activities or interests which are excessive or atypical for the person’s age or situation. The disorder’s onset is during the neurodevelopmental period, usually in early childhood, but symptoms may not fully show themselves until later, when social demands are increased.

These issues in ASD are severe enough to impair occupational, educational, social, family, personal or other areas of functioning and are typically a prevalent feature of a person’s functioning which can be observed in any setting. People with ASD display a full range of language abilities and intellectual functioning.

Signs And Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Common signs of autism spectrum disorder include:

  • Not pointing in order to show interest
  • Not showing interest when things are indicated
  • Little or no babbling as an infant
  • Showing little interest in caregivers or other children
  • Showing more interest in objects than other children or caregivers
  • Having a smaller than normal vocabulary for their age
  • Having trouble expressing themselves with words
  • Not knowing how to play with or relate to other children, despite showing interest in them
  • Problems with talking about their feelings or understanding the feelings of others
  • Limited or unusual toy usage
  • An avoidance of pretending games
  • A desire to be alone
  • An aversion to eye-contact
  • Getting upset when their routine changes
  • Having trouble adapting to routine changes
  • Being very sensitive to the appearance, taste, sound, texture or smell of things
  • Having trouble expressing needs by using everyday actions or words
  • An avoidance of hugs except when hugs are desired
  • Repetition of actions
  • Repetition of phrases or words, especially in place of typical language
  • Unusual positions, actions, expressions or movements
  • Self-harm
  • Seeming to lose once-held skills, like stopping the use of specific language

A small number of individuals with ASD can display notable ability, such as ability in art, music or mathematics. Exceptional cases of this are referred to as savant syndrome.

Causes Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research literature has identified many risk factors of ASD, including genetics, neuroanatomical abnormalities, environmental factors, and perinatal and prenatal factors.


April Is Autism Acceptance Month – What Is Autism?

Between 74 percent and 93 percent of the risk for ASD is heritable. Seven to 20 percent of subsequent children are likely to have ASD once an older child is diagnosed with it. Parents with an autistic child have a two to eight percent chance of having a second child with ASD. Identical twins of autistic children will have ASD 36 to 95 percent of the time. Fraternal twins of children with ASD will have ASD up to 31 percent of the time.

Genetic involvement in ASD probably depends on many genetic variants, some common with a small effect and some rare with a large effect. The CHD8 gene appears to be the the most common large effect rare variant; less than 0.5 of people with ASD have this mutation. ASD can be associated with genetic conditions such as fragile X syndrome, but only 2 percent of people with ASD have fragile X. These genes may persist since they are linked to human systemising, intelligence or inventiveness.

Genes increasing ASD susceptibility control protein synthesis in neuronal cells. There are up to 1,000 different genes thought to cause an increased ASD risk, and all of them affect neural development and connectivity between different brain areas in a manner characteristic of a brain with ASD. Some of these genes modulate GABA neurotransmitter production. This neurotransmitter is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human nervous system. These genes, related to GABA, are underexpressed in ASD brains.

Genes which control expression of immune and glial cells in the brain, such as microglia and astrocytes, are overexpressed in ASD brains.

These genetic variations contribute to the development of ASD, but there is no guarantee they are development determinants.

Early Life Circumstances

Numerous perinatal and prenatal complications have been reported as possibly being autism risk factors, including maternal and paternal age over 30, maternal gestational diabetes, use of prescription medication, such as valproate, during pregnancy, meconium in the amniotic fluid, and bleeding after the first trimester. The research on the relation of these factors to ASD is not conclusive.

It is hypothesized that low levels of vitamin D during early development may be an ASD risk factor.

Studies are being conducted to see if some types of ASD may have an autoimmune cause.

Heavy Metals

Numerous studies have linked the heavy metals cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic to autism:

A February 2021 United States House of Representatives Staff Report identified numerous baby foods containing high levels of heavy metals. This report identified baby foods containing up to 177 times the FDA’s allowable level of lead, 91 times the allowable level of arsenic, 69 times the allowable level of cadmium or five times the allowable level of mercury.

Baby foods identified in the report included:

  • Beech-Nut
  • Gerber
  • Nurture – Happy Family Organics and HappyBABY
  • Plum Organics – Campbell Soup
  • Sprout Organic Food
  • Earth’s Best Organic – Hain Celestial Group
  • Parent’s Choice – Walmart brand

The report found that rice puff products were particularly susceptible to this problem, naming multiple rice products, such as:

  • Strawberry and beet puffs
  • Sweet potato and carrot puffs
  • Kale and spinach puffs
  • Purple carrot and blueberry puffs
  • Pumpkin and banana puffs
  • Blueberry beet rice cakes
  • Apple rice cakes
  • Pumpkin and banana puffs
  • Apple and broccoli puffs

A WJLA report found that baby food manufacturers knew about the problem for years but failed to take action or warn the public about it. The report found that scientists tested baby foods and published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, but companies such as Gerber and Plum Organics failed to take appropriate actions to fix the problems or warn the public about them.

California law allows for those injured by products to recover financial compensation in lawsuits when companies know the products are dangerous but fail to warn about the danger.

Call us today at 800-718-4658 for a free consultation, or text us from this page, if your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder after eating any of the above baby foods. You may be eligible for financial compensation in a toxic baby food lawsuit for:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Past and future mental and physical pain and suffering
  • Future loss of wages
  • Economic losses
  • Expenses standard insurance doesn’t cover
  • Punitive damages

How Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosed?

It can be difficult to diagnose ASD because there is no medical test, such as a blood test, that can diagnose it. A child’s behavior and developmental history must be examined for a diagnosis to be made.

Doctors can sometimes diagnose ASD before 18 months of age, but diagnoses can come much later, and delays in diagnosis can mean that people with ASD don’t get the early help they require. Therefore, it is important to diagnose children with ASD as early as possible to make sure they receive the support and services they need to reach their full potential. The process of diagnosing ASD has several steps.

Developmental Monitoring

Developmental monitoring involves watching children grow and encouraging parent/provider conversations about the abilities and skills of children. It involves watching how children grow and whether children meet typical developmental milestones, or develop skills that children usually develop by a certain age, in moving, behaving, speaking, learning or playing.

Doctors and nurses can take part in developmental monitoring. They may ask parents questions about the development of children, or talk and play with children to see if they are meeting milestones and developing.

Doctors and nurses may also ask parents about their family history, such as conditions that family members may have like ASD, intellectual disability, ADHD or learning disorders.

Developmental Screening

Developmental screening can involved screening checklists and questionnaires which are based on research. This screening compares children to other children who are the same age. This screening can involve questions about movement, thinking skills, language, emotions and behaviors.

Doctors, nurses, and other professionals in school, community or healthcare settings can perform developmental screening. Parents may be asked to complete questionnaires as part of this screening process.

Developmental Diagnosis

Formal developmental evaluations may be required when screening identifies areas of concern. These formal evaluations are typically performed by trained specialists such as developmental pediatricians, speech language pathologists, child psychologists, occupational therapists or other specialists. These specialists might observe children, give children structured tests, ask parents or caregivers to fill out questionnaires, or ask parents or caregivers questions. These formal evaluations can identify if children meet the criteria for a developmental diagnosis.

What Are The Diagnostic Criteria For Autism Spectrum Disorder?

April Is Autism Acceptance Month – What Is Autism?

In order to be diagnosed with ASD, according to DSM-5, a child must have persistent deficits in the following areas of social interaction and communication:

  • Social-emotional reciprocity deficits, such as abnormal social approach, failure to have normal back-and-forth conversation, reduced sharing of interests, reduced emotions, or failure to respond to or initiate social interactions
  • Deficits regarding nonverbal communication during social interaction, such as badly integrated nonverbal and verbal communication, eye contact abnormalities, body language abnormalities, trouble understanding or using gestures, a lack of facial expressions or a lack of nonverbal communication
  • Issues with developing, understanding and maintaining relationships, such as trouble adjusting behavior to fit various social contexts, problems sharing imaginative play, problems making friends, or an absence of interest in peers

The child must also display at least two of the following types of repetitive, restricted behaviors:

  • Repetitive or stereotyped motor movements, speech or use of objects
  • Ritualized patterns of behavior, inflexible adherence to routines, or insistence on sameness
  • Highly fixated, restricted interests which are abnormal in focus or intensity
  • Having unusually sensitive senses

The symptoms must be present in the early neurodevelopmental period, must cause clinically significant impairment in occupational, social or other important areas of functioning, and the symptoms must not be better explained by global developmental delay or intellectual disability.


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