Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects a person’s ability to interact with the world around them. ASD is a neuro-developmental disability thought to have neurological or genetic causes (or both).
The term ASD includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PPD-NOS). ASD affects around 1 in 100 to 1 in 110 people of school age, with males being around four times more likely to be affected than females.
ASD has wide-ranging levels of severity and varying characteristics. There are no two people on the autism spectrum are alike. However, there is no cure because the cause is not yet fully understood. A person on the autism spectrum has difficulties in some areas of their development, but most skills may develop typically.
People on the autism spectrum have difficulties in the two main areas of:
- Social communication and interaction
- Restricted or repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities.
People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty with communication, so they may have difficulty expressing their needs. Some people on the autism spectrum might have good verbal language skills, while others never develop language.
For those who do develop language, they may have difficulties using appropriate vocabulary and grammar, also in constructing meaningful sentences. They may misunderstand words, interpret them literally or not understand them at all. Other people’s feelings and emotions can be difficult to understand.
There is a range of behaviors commonly linked with ASD. These may include:
- Language – delayed, absent or abnormal developmental patterns
- Play – repetitive, isolated, a preference for predictable play, difficulty with imaginative play, such as pretending that a box is a boat or a stick is a horse
- Body movements – stereotypical behavior, such as toe walking and flapping, and other behaviors that may cause self-injury, such as hand biting
- Restricted or obsessive behavior – with favorite topics, people, objects, places or activities
- Rituals and routines – these bring some order to confusion and chaos. A change to routine can result in the person displaying high levels of anxiety, stress or acting out
- Tantrums – can be a way to express extreme confusion, anxiety, stress, frustration, and anger when unable to express their emotions in another way
- Sensory processing differences – difficulties processing certain sounds, tastes, colors, smells, and textures. People may seek and avoid particular sensations.
Any link between immunization and ASD has been completely discredited.
A concern in the community about a possible link between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and ASD, during the 1990s, was generated by the findings of research (known as the Wakefield study) conducted in London in 1998. The Wakefield study has since been discredited and withdrawn by the journal that originally published it. Dr. Wakefield’s registration as a doctor in the United Kingdom has also been canceled.
Concern about child safety prompted researchers around the world to investigate any possible link between the MMR vaccine, other vaccines, and ASD. Extensive research conducted globally for a decade did not establish any link between vaccines and ASD.