Autism: An Overview

Achievement Center of Texas is an Autism Center that caters to individuals with specific needs. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), better known as just Autism, is a range of different problems with the human brain. One problem include challenges with the way we interact with one another.

The other problems are the challenges with the things we do over and over. We all have our own strengths and differences. Different genes and genetic markup, as well as influences from the environment contribute to the emergence of Autism. The term “Spectrum" shows that each person with Autism is different. Each person has their own range of challenges and strengths.

Signs and Early Intervention of Autism

The signs that a child has autism will come when they are between the ages of 2 and 3. Autism can also be diagnosed when a child is 18 months or earlier. If parents have concerns that their child might be autistic, they should seek evaluation for them as soon as possible.

Early intervention can improve outcomes. All children with autism can benefit from early intervention. Some may even gain enough skills to be able to attend regular school. Even as early as six months, diagnosis of Autism is possible. Regular screenings by pediatric psychiatrists are recommended.

Even if a child is not diagnosed with any of the forms of Autism before the age of 3, that child may be eligible for services given by state. In addition, many insurance companies will provide additional assistance for therapy coverage.

Autism Causes

There is not one real cause of Autism, as experts are still uncertain as to how it came to be. But, A child's genes, environmental toxins (pesticides), and heavy metals (mercury), are potential causes of Autism. A child's genes, environmental toxins including pesticides and heavy metals like mercury are potential causes.

Genes play a major role in the development of Autism.  Faulty genes might make a person more likely to develop autism when there are other factors present. An imbalance of chemicals in the brain, viruses, and a lack of oxygen at birth has to exist. Research found that identical twins are more likely to both be affected than twins that are not genetically identical.

According to research, Autism is caused by:

  • Rubella (German measles) in the pregnant mother
  • Tuberous sclerosis (a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain as well as in other vital organs)
  • Fragile X syndrome (the most common inherited form of intellectual disability)
  • Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
  • Untreated phenylketonuria (PKU) – when the body lacks an enzyme needed for normal metabolism

There is a theory that suggests a link between autism and the use of something called “thimerosal”. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative used in the measles-mumps-rubella, or “MMR” vaccine. Although mercury is no longer found in child vaccines in the United States, some parents still have concerns about certain vaccinations.

However, the good news is that many large-scale studies have now been performed that have failed to show a link between Thimerosal and autism. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that there is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine for that matter.

Different Types of Autism

Autistic Disorder (Autism)

This form of Autism is diagnosed during early childhood, around infancy and a little later. There are a range of nonspecific problems, like different phobias, sleeping and eating disturbances, temper tantrums, and self-directed aggression.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome is form of Autism characterized by normal or above average intelligence. Asperger Syndrome contains no delay in language or construction of thought processes.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Also known as CDD, dementia infantalis, disintegrative psychosis or Heller's syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is an extremely rare form of autism. Children with CDD appear to develop normally until the age of two. After that, they go backwards, losing many of the skills they had before, like the ability to walk or talk.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)/Atypical Autism

This diagnosis describes people who do not fit neatly into one of the specific kinds of Autism.

Achievement Center of Texas Autism Center
Autism by Melissa via CC

How ACT Serves People with Autism

The most effective treatments available today are applied behavioral analysis (ABA), occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and pharmacological therapy. Our Autism Center offers treatment that works to minimize the impact of Autism and maximize a child’s quality of life.

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) works to change behavior based on principles of learning taken from behavioral psychology. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative ones. ABA also teaches new skills and applies those skills to new situations.
  • Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) is for very young children with an ASD. These children are usually younger than five and often younger than three.
  • Pivotal Response Training  increases a child’s motivation to learn, monitor their own behavior, and have a want to talk to others by focusing on behaviors that are seen as the key to learning other skills like language, play, and social skills. This training works to generalize skills across many settings with different people.

How ACT Educates People with Autism

Discrete Trial Teaching

Discrete trial teaching, a common form of ABA, ensures that what being taught is broken down into smaller steps and taught using prompts and rewards for each step. The prompts and rewards are phased out over time.

Speech Therapy

Speech Therapy with a speech-language pathologist helps to improve a person’s communication skills, allowing them to better express their needs or wants. For individuals with Autism, speech therapy is often most effective when speech-language pathologists work with teachers, support personnel, families, and the child’s peers to promote functional communication in settings that are more normal.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy is used as a treatment for the sensory integration issues associated with Autism. It is also used to help teach life skills that involve normal motor skills like dressing, using utensils, cutting with scissors, and writing.

OT works to improve the individual’s quality of life and ability to completely participate in daily activities. Occupational therapy for young children with Autism often focuses on improving sensory integration and sensorimotor issues. In older children, OT often focuses on improving social behavior and increasing independence.

Physical Therapy (PT)

Physical therapy is used to improve motor skills and handle sensory integration issues, particularly those involving the individual’s ability to feel and be aware of his body in space. Similar to OT, physical therapy is used to improve the individual’s ability to participate in everyday activities.

PT works to teach and improve skills like walking, sitting, coordination, and balance. Physical therapy is most effective when integrated in an early intervention program.


Medication can help take away some of the behavioral symptoms of Autism, including irritability, aggression, and self-injurious behavior. Additionally, by medically reducing interfering or disruptive behaviors, other treatments including ABA may be more effective. A qualified physician should prescribe and monitor any medications given.

Suggested Medication for People with Autism

Two medications are prescribed for Autism. They are Risperidone and Aripriprazole. Risperidone is the first FDA-approved medication for the treatment of symptoms associated with Autism in children and adolescents, including aggressive behavior, deliberate self-injury, and temper tantrums.

Aripriprazole is the second FDA-approved for the treatment of irritability in children and adolescents with Autism. A 2009 study published in Pediatrics found that in a group of 98 children, by week 8, 52% of those taking aripriprazole, experienced a 25% or greater reduction in autism-related irritability symptoms compared with 14% of those who took something else.

The Lovaas Model consists of 20-40 hours of highly structured, discrete trial training that merges ABA techniques into an early intervention program. The intervention typically begins when the child is between the ages of 2-8 years old, and no later than 12 years old. The technique helps the child by motivating them and rewarding success. The use of language and imitation are crucial for the teaching model.

The Early Start Denver Model is a Play-based, relationship-focused early intervention program designed for infants, toddlers ages 12-48 months with autism. Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., and Sally Rogers, Ph.D. developed this program. This model the only experimentally verified early-intervention program designed for children with autism as young as 18 months old. ESDM also merges the principles of ABA to an early-intervention program.