Autism Spectrum Disorder FAQs

What causes autism spectrum disorders? 
There is strong data indicating that genetics are the major cause of autism. However, not all genetic risk is inherited; some of the genetic changes leading to autism occur as mutations in the egg or sperm.

Can vaccines cause autism?
There are several epidemiological studies that have disproven the connection between autism and vaccines.

What are the most common signs of autism?
In toddlers, obvious symptoms may not be present, so it is often the absence of normal behavior that indicates a developmental problem. Autism has three core symptom domains: social impairment, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors. However the ways in which these symptoms manifest themselves vary from one child to the next. Some common symptoms include fleeting eye contact, limited gesturing such as pointing or waving, limited pretend play, difficulty reading nonverbal cues, odd language such as scripted speech or echolalia (repeating another person’s words or vocalizations), repetitive motor play, and difficulties with changes in environment or routine.

How is autism diagnosed? 
Early diagnosis is important because it can lead to earlier treatment, which research has linked to more positive outcomes. While there is no medical test for autism, an autism spectrum diagnosis is made based on observed behavior, developmental history, and autism-specific screening tools. The gold standard screenings are the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview - Revised (ADI-R). These tools along with clinician judgment are used to make an autism diagnosis.

What are the treatments for autism?
The primary and first-line treatments include intensive behavioral and educational therapies started before the age of three that promote the development of the unique social and communication deficits seen in young children with autism. These therapies can be provided by a trained specialist and reinforced by caregivers at home. There is currently no cure for autism.

Can diet help children with autism spectrum disorders?
Families have reported improvements in behavior and language as a result of special diets, including elimination diets that remove gluten (a protein in wheat and related grains) and casein (a protein in milk), but results of research studies have not supported the widespread use of elimination diets as a treatment for autism symptoms.

What autism research is being done? 
Current autism research is moving rapidly in the fields of genetics, neurobiology, educational interventions, and targeted medications. One promising area of research seeks to identify autism genes in order to develop new drugs based on the genetic findings.

What should I do if I think my child may have autism?
The first step is a conversation with your child’s pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for autism at their 18- and 24-month well-baby checkups. If there are concerns, your pediatrician should refer you to a specialist (such as a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, child psychiatrist, or psychologist) for a more extensive evaluation. An evaluation conducted by a multidisciplinary team (including an occupational therapist, physical therapist, and speech therapist) may also be beneficial. In addition to an autism-specific evaluation, a hearing test and lead screening should be conducted.

Contact the Seaver Autism Center

To learn more about our services and research:

Tel: 212-241-0961
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Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Department of Psychiatry
Box 1668
One Gustave L. Levy Place
New York, NY 10029  Map