Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder. While autism was once considered to be a rare disorder, currently is estimated that 1 in 200 Canadian children are affected by autism, an increase of 600% in the past 10 years. Autism is now recognized as the most common developmental disorder in children.

In 1943 Dr. Leo Kanner described several children who displayed similar symptoms, that he called "autistic". There are several theories, but no conclusive answers about the cause, or causes, of autism. The one thing we are sure of is that poor parenting does NOT cause autism. Medical research regarding causation is currently focused on genetics, neurological differences, immunology and early identification.

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects communication, social interaction skills and behaviour. 

A diagnosis of autism requires impairments in all of the following areas of development:

  1. Social Interaction: People with autism often do not relate well to other people (particularly peers), have difficulty learning to play with others, can not effectively use non-verbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye gaze and facial expressions while interacting and have difficulty sharing information and experiences with others.
  2. Communication: The impairment includes both spoken language and non-verbal skills (gestures, body postures, imaginative play). People with autism who speak may have difficulty with speech production and/or conversational skills.
  3. Restricted Repertoire of Behaviours, Activities and Interests: This includes some of the unusual behaviours that are often associated with autism such as: stereotyped body movements (hand flapping, toe walking, rocking, etc.), insistence upon following non-functional routines or rituals, preoccupations with parts of objects (wheels, handles, etc.), and an abnormally intense or focused preoccupation with a very limited range of interests.

A number of other features are associated with the disorder and may or may not be present. These may include difficulties in eating, sleeping and toileting, unusual fears, lack of awareness of danger, repetitive behaviours and speech, self-injury. Unusual responses to sensory input such as extreme reactions to loud noises or touch are commonly seen. Individuals with autism may have any or all of these associated features in various combinations.

There is no known cure for autism but structured early intervention combined with appropriate education programs can provide children with autism with the skills necessary for successful integration. Support and information for families, professionals and caregivers is also essential. With appropriate programs and support, individuals with autism can become active and contributing members of their communities.

If you would like further information about autism contact The Geneva Centre for Autism