( Acknowledgements and thanks to Research Autism http://www.researchautism.net/ )
We know that autism arises from differences in brain development. The causes are unknown, although there is some evidence that complex genetic factors play a part in some forms of autism but there is no single cause.
There is an urgent need for more research into how people living with autism can realise their potential and lead fulfilling lives. We do know, however, that it is definitely not to do with emotional deprivation or the way a person is brought up. People living with autism and their families urgently need to be aware of what treatments and other *approaches are available to them and worth considering integrating into their lives. They also need understanding, support and services.
There is some evidence to show that the numbers diagnosed with autism are increasing but there has been a broadening of the diagnostic criteria and diagnostic practices have improved and become more widely known. Autism has only relatively recently been properly recognized and diagnosed (since the 60s and 70s) and there are currently no accurate records of the numbers of people with autism with which we can compare. It is suspected that the number of adults living with the condition is vastly underestimated. As part of our work going forward, Research Autism is investing in a prevalence study that will try to identify exactly how many people in the UK are living with autism. The known costs of autism to the UK economy are certainly increasing: a recent study undertaken by The London School of Economics estimated the cost of autism on the UK economy to be just under £28 billion each year.
There is no established link between autism and offending. Often however, people with autism are more vulnerable to being victims of crime because of the nature of their social difficulties, and they may be taken advantage of. A small number may however, as a result, of anxiety or impaired social understanding, get into trouble with the law.
Autism has been linked to a host of different possible causes and there is very little evidence to support most of these theories. The commonly held view is that autism may be the result of a number of genetic factors working together. These are complex and there may be other actors involved such as infections, trauma or the environment. While research into causes is ongoing, it is crucial that we invest funds into ensuring people with autism now can access the best interventional treatments and therapies now to ensure they have fulfilling lives.
There is no evidence linking autism to MMR. We are very aware of the concerns of parents on this issue and we urge parents to discuss vaccinations and their individual children’s needs with their GP. It is vital that health professionals listen to parents concerns and take them seriously as the experts on their own children.
Autism is a lifelong condition. Unless there is a specific medical condition causing autism symptoms the concept of cure is not appropriate as autism is a term used to describe a range of developmental conditions with no known cause. It is also the case that individuals with autism may have particular abilities that are of huge benefit to society and may have superior technical, analytical or creative abilities.
Where autism represents a disability, appropriate education and support, can reduce or mitigate the adverse effects and children with autism can go on to fulfil their potential. It is important that the individuality and uniqueness of each individual is recognised in the assessment and intervention process.