10 Autism Facts to Share With Friends and Family

Parents of children with autism often devour information about the disorder. But what about in-laws, teachers, coaches, and cousins? Few people outside the immediate family really want to read 20 closely-written pages from the National Institutes of Health. Here are some bare-bones basics for those who know and interact with your child along with links to more in-depth information for those who want to know.


Autism Is a Spectrum Disorder

young twin boys

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People with autism can be high-functioning, low-functioning, or somewhere in-between. Thus, it is possible to be bright, verbal, and autistic as well as cognitively challenged, nonverbal, and autistic. Symptoms can range from sensitivities to light and sound to extraordinary "savant" abilities. A disorder that includes such a broad range of symptoms is often called a spectrum disorder; hence the term "autism spectrum disorder." The most significant shared symptom is difficulty with social communication, such as making eye contact, conversation, or understanding another's perspective.


Asperger's Syndrome Is a High-Functioning Form of Autism

As of 2013, Asperger's Syndrome no longer exists as a formal diagnosis, with the publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5).  Nevertheless, the term is still sometimes used to describe a form of autism in which people develop speech right on time, are bright and verbal, but have significant social challenges. Often called "high-functioning autism," this disorder can be very challenging as it may also include anxiety, sensory dysfunction, and other symptoms.​


People With Autism Are Different From One Another

If you've seen Rainman or a TV show about autism, you may think you know what autism "looks like." In fact, though, when you've met one person with autism you've met one person with autism. Some people with autism are chatty; others are silent. Many have sensory issues, gastrointestinal problems, sleep difficulties, and other medical problems. Many don't. Others may have social-communication delays but are able to function very well in typical settings.


There Are Dozens of Treatments for Autism but No Cure

So far as medical science is aware, there is at present no cure for autism. That's not to say that people with autism don't improve, because many improve radically. But even when people with autism increase their skills, they are still autistic, which means they think and perceive differently from most people. Children with autism may receive many types of treatments. Treatments may be medical, sensory, behavioral, developmental or even arts-based. Depending upon the child, certain treatments will be more successful than others.


There Are Many Theories on the Cause of Autism but No Consensus

You may have seen or heard news stories about possible causes of autism. Theories range from mercury in infant vaccines (though there is a wealth of evidence debunking the theory) to genetics to the age of the parents to almost everything else. At present, most researchers think autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and it's quite possible that different people's symptoms have different causes.


Children Rarely Outgrow or Overcome Autism

Autism is usually a lifelong diagnosis. Often (but not always), people who receive intensive early intervention may see a radical decrease in symptoms. People with autism can also learn coping skills to help them manage their difficulties and even build on their unique strengths. But a person with autism will probably be autistic throughout their lives.


Families Coping With Autism Need Help and Support

Even "high-functioning" autism is challenging. "Low-functioning" autism can be overwhelming to the entire family. Families may be under a great deal of stress, and they need all the non-judgmental help they can get from friends, extended family, and service providers. Respite care (someone else taking care of the person with autism while other family members take a break) can be a marriage and/or family-saver in some situations.


There's No Best School for a Child With Autism

You may have heard of a wonderful "autism school," or read of a child doing amazingly well in a particular type of classroom setting. While any given setting may be perfect for any given child, every child with autism has unique needs. Even in an ideal world, "including" a child with autism in a typical class may not be the best choice. Decisions about autistic education are generally made by a team made up of parents, teachers, administrators, and therapists who know the child well.


There Are Many Unfounded Myths About Autism

The media is full of stories about autism, and many of those stories are less than accurate. For example, you may have heard that people with autism are cold and unfeeling, or that people with autism never marry or hold productive jobs. Since every person with autism is different, however, such "always" and "never" statements simply don't hold water. To understand a person with autism, it's a good idea to spend some time getting to know him or her personally.


Autistic People Have Many Strengths and Abilities

It may seem that autism is a wholly negative diagnosis. But almost everyone on the autism spectrum has a great to deal to offer the world. People with autism are among the most forthright, non-judgmental, passionate people you'll ever meet. They are also ideal candidates for many types of careers.

Pass the Info Along

With so much misinformation out there on morning shows, questionable websites, and forums, it's important for parents of children on the spectrum to share the facts. In fact, parents are the best possible ambassadors for explaining what autism is—and what it isn't—to the world at large.

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Article Sources
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  2. Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated August 13, 2019

  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Updated March 2018

  4. Autism Spectrum Disorder Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated 3-27-2019