FAQs

Questions
10.08.2005 What Is ASD-CARC?
10.08.2005 What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?
29.07.2005 How common are ASDs?
29.07.2005 Who is affected by autism?
29.07.2005 Why do autistic children avoid eye contact?
12.10.2005 What are the causes of autism?
12.10.2005 If the causes are unknown, how do you know that genetics has anything to do with it?
14.10.2005 What is a "control"?
12.10.2005 How is autism diagnosed? Are there medical tests?
12.10.2005 What are the characteristics of autism?
12.10.2005 Do all individuals with autism have extraordinary abilities such as the one portrayed by Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Rain Man?
 
Answers
Q: What Is ASD-CARC?
A: The Autism Spectrum Disorders Canadian-American Research Consortium comprises more than 60 researchers, clinicians, and parents undertaking multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research aimed at understanding ASDs.
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Q: What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?
A: Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by impairments in reciprocal social interaction and communication, and the presence of stereotypic activities and restricted interests. ASDs include: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger disorder, and are part of the larger family of pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) that includes Rett disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder.
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Q: How common are ASDs?
A: Recent studies suggest that ASDs affect between 1/250 and 1/500 individuals.
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Q: Who is affected by autism?
A: Autism is distributed throughout the world among all races, nationalities, and social classes. Four of every five people with autism are male.
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Q: Why do autistic children avoid eye contact?
A: For some individuals, eye contact is very distressing, possibly because it over-stimulates them. Children with autism often have trouble with verbal communication and body language, which therefore sends out ambivalent signals.
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Q: What are the causes of autism?
A: Autism is believed to be a developmental neurological disorder, meaning that it is present from birth although the symptoms usually appear after a year or two (some experts have been known to identify sign of autism in the first year of life in a few cases).
The cause of autism remains unknown but research have pointed that some parts of the brain involved in language and information processing may be affected, possibly due to chemical imbalances in the brain during development or throughout life. Autism was once believed to be caused by emotional trauma (often said to be caused by the infant’s mother) but this has been proven to be false.
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Q: If the causes are unknown, how do you know that genetics has anything to do with it?
A: It has been shown that when a child in a family is affected with autism, that child’s immediate siblings (who share approximately 50% of their genetic material with the affected individual) develop autism or a related disorder goes from approximately 0.5% in the general population to about 2.0%, a 20-fold increase. Of course, one could argue that the common environment could be the cause of such increase. However, when identical twins (who share 100% of their genetic material) are considered, the concordance rate is even more important, reaching more than 80%. Taken together, those results suggest that there is a strong genetic component to susceptibility to autism.
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Q: What is a "control"?
A: To understand how individuals vary, scientists compare individuals or families with a condition to those without the condition. Individuals and families without the condition being measured are known as controls. In the science of understanding autism, controls are individuals without an ASD and their families who are willing to participate in these studies. These individuals allow ASD-CARC's scientists to determine what characteristics are unique to families with autism and what ones are found in families without autism.
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Q: How is autism diagnosed? Are there medical tests?
A: There is no medical test per se. Diagnosis is made by well-trained professional through information obtained from discussions with parents, as well as direct observation of behaviour and development.
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Q: What are the characteristics of autism?
A: Although the degree of severity differs between individuals, the characteristic impairments include:
Difficulties in understanding and engaging in social relationships
Individuals with autism are often described as "being in their own world". This conception comes from their inability to understand other people’s feelings and to develop friendships. They often avoid eye contact and resist physical contact. Some individuals have been described as showing almost no emotions while others appear to laugh, cry or go into tantrums for no apparent reason.
Stereotyped and restrictive interests and behaviour
Repetitive body movements such as hand flicking, spinning and rocking are among the behaviours most often observed in individuals with autism. Also, people affected with autism often need to engage in routines which, if disturbed, can be very upsetting and cause an important amount of distress.

Play and imagination
Children with autism often lack the ability to engage in imaginative play. For example, instead of pretending to drive a toy car, they will line up their entire collection of miniature vehicles in a very organized way.
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Q: Do all individuals with autism have extraordinary abilities such as the one portrayed by Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Rain Man?
A: Although Savant skills (from the French term meaning"someone who knows") are more common in individuals with autism than in the general population, not everyone affected with autism possess amazing abilities. Some individuals have splinter skills in fields such as music, drawing and mathematics while others do not show such abilities. Of course, in some cases, special abilities may go unnoticed if the individual is not tested in the field he excels at.
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