Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is ASD caused by the vaccinations given to children when they are 18-24 months old?
No. There has been a lot of debate over the role of vaccines in causing ASD, particularly around the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine. There are many people on both sides of the debate, and numerous internet blogs, groups and forums supporting either side. To date, scientific research has been unable to find any conclusive link between the MMR vaccine and consequently developing ASD. The research study that originally suggested a link between the two has since been retracted by the journal that published the study, as the researcher's methods were found to be flawed. Large studies have indicated the same rates of ASD amongst vaccinated and non-vaccinated populations indicating no connection between vaccination and ASD.
Is ASD reversible?
Currently, there is no cure for ASD and it is not considered to be reversible. Individualised therapy and effective supports will help to manage the symptoms of ASD and help ensure the individual leads a happy and fulfilling life. However, the diagnosis of ASD will not 'disappear' or cease to be accurate.
Are people with ASD always gifted?
No. Only a small number of people with ASD are gifted in a particular area, such as music, maths or drawing. Portrayals of ASD in some movies and stories of famous people with ASD can lead us to believe that every person with ASD has special skills, but this is rarely the case. Research indicates that individuals with ASD tend to have an uneven profile of abilities with peaks and troughs, unlike neurotypical individuals who tend to have a fairly even profile of ability across all areas. What this means is that an individual with ASD might find some things relatively easy, and others very difficult. It is important to work to the strengths of each individual and as with neurotypical individuals, encourage them to focus on the areas they enjoy.
Is ASD caused by something parents did or didn't do?
No. ASD is not caused by a particular parenting style, by the actions of parents or something the mother did while she was pregnant.
So, what is the cause of ASD?
The cause of ASD is unknown. There is evidence that genes play an important role in its cause and it is believed that there are multiple genes involved. Specific genes for ASD have not been conclusively identified and currently there is no medical or genetic screening or diagnostic laboratory test for ASD. Diagnosis is based on the presence of particular behaviour and communication patterns.
Can individuals with ASD be taught to communicate?
Individuals on the spectrum vary in their communication skills. Some may never develop language, as cognitive or processing issues may make speech challenging. Others might acquire some functional language, whilst others still will develop meaningful, fluent and effective language. Communication skills can be taught using alternative methods: low tech options include signing, symbols, printed word, photos, picture exchange systems or any combination of these, and high tech supports include voice generating systems and computer based products and software. For many individuals these supports will aid the development of language. As ASD is quite a broad spectrum, there are some individuals with ASD who may not develop speech but develop the ability to communicate through using these alternative communication methods.
Do all individuals with ASD have an intellectual disability?
No. An Intellectual Disability (ID) is diagnosed when an individual scores well below the average in several areas of cognitive ability and adaptive behaviour. Individuals with an ID show impairments across a number of areas, including their verbal skills, nonverbal skills, processing speed, working memory, and adaptive behaviour or life skills. Whilst a large number of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder have co-occurring ID (thought to be around 70%), there are many individuals with ASD who are average to above average intelligence. Individuals with ASD often display uneven patterns of abilities. They may score below average in some areas or cognitive ability, such as verbal skills or adaptive behaviour skills, but score in the average range or above average range in others, for example working memory or nonverbal Skills.
Does ASD co-exist with other conditions?
ASD can occur by itself or in association with other disorders such as intellectual disability, anxiety disorders, ADHD, learning disability, epilepsy, Fragile X syndrome, mood disorders, sleep disorders and others.
How common is ASD?
ASD affects at least 1 in 100 individuals in Australia. ASD is a lifelong condition. Individuals do not grow out of ASD and there is no known cure. At present, more males than females are diagnosed with ASD.
Is it true that people with ASD do not want to make friends and do not like interacting with others?
No. People with ASD are often unsure how to approach others or develop appropriate friendship, despite a strong desire to interact with people and have meaningful relationships.
Unlike neurotypical people, they may not intuitively learn the social skills required for interacting with others, and instead need explicit instruction on such skills to help them develop an understanding of appropriate social interaction and different kinds of relationships.
Do people with ASD lack empathy?
People with ASD can struggle to understand that other people have thoughts, feelings and intentions that are different from their own. This is one facet of 'Theory of mind'. People with ASD may misinterpret another person's intentions and this can be perceived as a lack of empathy. People with ASD do not develop these skills in the same way as typically developing individuals (Neurotypical) but can learn them through explicit teaching and practice.
Why do people with ASD exhibit unusual patterns of behaviour?
Everyone, whether they have ASD or not, has behaviours. Breathing, talking and moving are all behaviours we engage in as humans. For some people living with ASD, their behaviour is the only way they can communicate with other people. Even if they have good verbal skills, they may find it difficult to communicate with language in times of stress. At these times, their behaviour tells us that they are struggling to communicate. It is important when supporting a person with ASD, to view their behaviour as communication. Observe them and find out what they are trying to say, then work out how to support them to communicate in a more effective way.
Will my child always be like this?
Many parents whose child has just been diagnosed with ASD worry that this means that their child will not progress. Although ASD is considered a lifelong condition, all children with ASD grow, learn and develop as they get older. The presentation and characteristics of ASD can change throughout a person's life. Life circumstances and life stages, as well as therapy and support, can all change the way an individual with ASD behave and appear to other people. With the right therapy and ongoing support individuals with ASD can learn to compensate for many of their difficulties and use their interests and abilities productively.
Can children with ASD go to mainstream school?
Yes, all children with ASD are legally entitled to go to a mainstream school. Some children with ASD may qualify for some extra funding which the school can use to help the children, for example by employing an integration aide or acquiring help from a psychologist or speech pathologist or other professionals. Some children with ASD may qualify to go to an autism-specific school in their region. Children with ASD who also have an intellectual disability may qualify for a Special School. If you are a parent, choosing a school for your child is a very personal decision. You make seek advice from other people, but ultimately you will need to decide what is best for your child.
I am an adult and think I might have ASD, should I get a diagnosis?
With more awareness and understanding in the community around ASD, many adults may wonder whether they have the condition. For many, the diagnosis of a child prompts them to reflect on their own lives and seek further information about a diagnosis for themselves. Some may struggle with secondary issues such as depression, anxiety or social isolation. In these cases, a diagnosis may be beneficial to have an understanding of the best way to approach therapy and further support, as well as understanding themselves. Additionally, a diagnosis may also provide the individual with access to other services, resources, employment support and financial support within the community. It may be expensive for adults to obtain a diagnosis and if the individual is coping with life, is well supported and happy a diagnosis may not be necessary.
How can I help someone with ASD?
Anyone can help someone with ASD. It all begins with patience, knowledge and understanding around ASD. An important fact to remember is that every individual on the spectrum is unique and therefore will have both strengths and difficulties. To help someone with ASD it is fundamental to identify the person's likes and dislikes as well as their key motivators. Simplifying communication and instructions may also benefit the individual. Other ways to help someone with ASD include taking the time to listen and communicate with the person, minimising any stressful scenarios or reading ASD related books to obtain a better picture of the disorder.
Can medication be useful with individuals with ASD?
Medication has no specific role in treating ASD itself. However, some individuals with ASD exhibit severe behaviour patterns, high levels of anxiety, they may become depressed, or they may develop epilepsy. In such cases, medication may have a role in the treatment of these specific conditions and should be prescribed by a practitioner familiar with ASD.
What does the future look like for an individual with ASD?
ASD is a lifelong disorder. Most individuals with ASD will require varying degrees of support throughout their lives. With structured support programs sensitive to the unique needs of each individual those with ASD can live a meaningful and fulfilling life.