Autism - What are the characteristics?

The word autism is derived from the Greek word autos, meaning "self." Autos refers to the inward-looking impression that children with autism often make. With Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) a group of deep penetrating (pervasive) developmental disorders is indicated. This means that the developmental disorder penetrates deep into total functioning.

What is autism?

Autism is a disorder in the information processing of the brain. Information that enters through the senses (see, smell, feel, hear, taste) is processed differently in children with autism. They struggle to process the details that they perceive into a coherent whole. As a result, children with autism have problems with communication, social interaction and imagination.
Autism is a lifelong, often invisible, disability that affects all areas of life at all stages of life. It is a handicap that is determined to a high degree (90%) hereditary. Ten percent is attributed to unfavorable environmental variables, especially during pregnancy and childbirth.

Foreign research

On the basis of mainly foreign research, it is assumed that autism occurs in just over one (1.3) out of every 1,000 children. Translated to all young people up to 20 years in the Netherlands means that at least 5,000 children and young people with autism. One to two per 1,000 children suffer from another autism spectrum disorder. More than four times as many boys as girls have autism spectrum disorders.

What forms of autism are there?

Autism can be divided into the following 5 subgroups:

Classic autism or nuclear autism

In this type of autism, children have a backlog in behavioral development, communication and entering into social contacts.


Children with this form of autism are not lagging behind in behavioral development and language skills. However, they do have limitations in social interaction, such as making friends. They also often have limited interests and activities.


PDD NOS stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. A child with PDD NOS has a limitation in communication and social interaction.

RETT syndrome

RETT syndrome is a rare disease in which the development of a child stagnates between 5 and 30 months. The child turns to himself and exhibits autistic behavior, where previously it was still social and made contact with his environment.

Heller Syndrome

This syndrome is a rare disease in which the development of a child between 2 and 10 years stagnates. Children lose previously acquired skills in the areas of language, social behavior, communication and motor skills.

Hereditary factors are important in the development of autism

Heredity plays an important role in the development of autism. It seems to involve a complex interaction of multiple genes that lead to a deviant development of the brain. Brain research shows, among other things, that the information processing of children with autism proceeds more slowly, and more links, than in children without autism. No specific genes have yet been found that increase the chance of autism. Sometimes - in a maximum of one in ten children with autism spectrum disorders - autism is the result of a physical disorder. For example, tuberous sclerosis is about a hundred times more common in children with an autism spectrum disorder than in others. Autism also occurs relatively frequently in children with a mental handicap. Only three out of ten children with autism have a normal IQ. In addition, three-quarters of autistic patients with low IQ (<70) suffer from epileptic seizures.

From what age can autism be diagnosed?

In principle, the diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder can be made from a very early age. This is rarely done in practice. Much depends on the experience of the diagnostician.
For toddlers of about 18 months there is a questionnaire that screens for autism, the CHAT (Checklist Autism for Toddlers). This is intended for use by a (pediatric) doctor and assesses a number of key characteristics of autism at that age. Think, for example, of the shared attention, following someone's view and participating in social games (peek-a-boo games).


The age of children is diagnostically the most sensitive period: the autism characteristics are sometimes difficult to check for younger children and (especially gifted) children often compensate or hide their deficits after the pre-school age.
Because the development in very young children sometimes makes crazy jumps, diagnosticians often place a 'preliminary' or 'work' diagnosis with them. With this, you, as parents, can start to make adjustments in the environment and set up targeted stimulation and then look for a definitive diagnosis.


Structure is indispensable for children who do not oversee their environment. Children with autism perceive the world around them in loose pieces and lose themselves in details.
Five important requirements when dealing with autism are:

Cooking alarms
Clear language use

Lack of mutual cohesion

Children with autism do not immediately see a petting zoo on a picture of a petting zoo. They do see a goat, a fence, the stairs of the slide and a few loose chickens. The lack of cohesion makes the world chaotic, unclear and unsafe for them. Parents have the task of structuring the environment in such a way that the world becomes predictable and therefore safe. Each space can best have its own function and every thing is a fixed place.

Time is a difficult concept

Time is also a difficult concept for children with autism. If you use a kitchen timer for a specific activity and clearly indicate in advance that the activity has a beginning and an end, then by using the kitchen timer, it becomes "tangible" and clear. Statements such as "later", "later" or "even" are abstractions and difficult to understand. Try to indicate how many minutes you mean.
Use literal language against autistic children. Word jokes are often difficult to understand or are wrong.

Neutral message

With a neutral facial expression and normal voice use, your messages are most obvious. Children with autism find it difficult to read moods from other people. If, for example, they have learned that a frown in the forehead means 'angry', it is confusing if you ponderously show a frown. A lot of variation in facial expression and use of the voice only distracts one person from what you wanted to tell him or her.

Visually set

Many autistic children are visually oriented. That is why photos and pictograms are good tools for communication. For example, use icons of stationary clocks to indicate the start and end times of an activity. Shopping is also an activity that can be clearly demonstrated by taking a shopping cart icon.
You can also use photos with certain parts instead of icons. For example when swimming. You can use a photo of the pool, but make sure it is exactly that pool you are going to. Children with autism can not generalize and will not always understand that a photo of that one pool means you go to another. With an icon you avoid this ambiguity.

Chaotic and unpredictable

For children with autism the world is chaotic and unpredictable. They often seek structure in one or more activities that are so familiar that they feel safe. That can be preoccupations or rituals. Rituals are actions that are always performed and repeated in exactly the same order. This can sometimes take a long time, for example because someone washes their hands after putting on every piece of clothing. Resist the temptation to chase him or her. A child with autism will only get confused and seek even more security in his ritual. Better you can come up with a different ritual in a quiet moment. A clearly written step-by-step plan for the washing and dressing ritual in the morning probably gives enough structure to replace the earlier ritual.


Preoccupations (focusing attention on the same subject or activity) are another way to seek security in a world that is chaotic. They are available in all shapes and sizes.
For people in the immediate vicinity it is quickly annoying to have to listen to the same stories or to watch a film for the tenth time. Remember, however, that preoccupations have a function: to seek security in a world that is completely unreliable. Yet it is good to set some limits. Children with autism may otherwise lose their full activity, making them increasingly difficult to reach. In addition, a preoccupation itself can also generate tension, for example in the event of having to win the same racing game. Speak clearly when your child may be preoccupied and how long it may take, for example half an hour after every meal.


Changes in the daily schedule can significantly expel children with autism. Therefore, announce changes as early as possible. When changing, always explain why it should be different, but do not start the discussion. An altercation creates more confusion. Transitions in the day program must also be announced in good time, especially if someone is busy with his or her preoccupation. It works best to announce transitions from one job to another twenty, ten and five minutes in advance.


Having patience is a very important aspect when dealing with children with autism. Children with autism can sometimes drive their environment to despair: they perform seemingly useless rituals when you are in a hurry, chatting your ears about subjects that do not interest you and will not show affection or interest to you as a person. You usually get nothing with anger. Your child just does not notice that you are busy with something else when they come to demand that you finish the game. Try to 'force' yourself and check whether the situation is as clear as you thought yourself.

Vaccinations cause of autism increase?

In the US, where a lot of neurological research is conducted into autism, researchers have come across a possible link between autism and vaccinations. The large increase in autism is in parallel with the increase in the number of vaccines administered to children. The cause is called the preservative thiomersal, a product that consists mainly of mercury. The absence of autism in Europe from before the Second World War, while it was already observed in America, the researchers see as a first indication, because mercury as an addition was already present in the US vaccines, but not yet in the European. Mercury is one of the most dangerous toxins. It is a neurotoxin (toxin = poison). Only plutonium would be even more dangerous. Another feature of mercury is that it accumulates in the brain and there destroys brain tissue.


Since 1991, when the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommended three additional vaccinations containing thiomersal for children, the number of cases of autism has increased by 15fold. From 1 in 2500 children to 1 in 166 children. In China, autism was unknown until America introduced thiomersal in medicines. Now there are more than 1.8 million autists according to reports.


The question, of course, is why this dangerous stuff was in the vaccines. The reason given was to prevent bacterial growth. Meanwhile, years of studies have shown that mercury is at the top of the list as the cause of many neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and presumably now also autism.

Little concrete research

In the Netherlands, little or no concrete research results can be found about the relationship between the vaccines and the increase in autism. The NVKP suspects a link between the use of vaccines and the growth of autism. Thiomersal is no longer added to the vaccines in the Netherlands. Only in 2009 was this addition still used in the vaccines against swine flu. In Denmark, it has been removed from vaccines since 1992. In Russia, the drug has been banned for twenty years. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Japan and Great Britain have also banned the substance.

Medicine use in autism?

As a parent you can be faced with the choice to give your child medication or not. In order to make this decision, you first need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of medicines and the side effects.
As a parent, however, you must always bear in mind that there will be no cure for autism in medicine use, but only a reduction in behavioral problems.

Different behavioral problems

In addition to the "core symptoms" of autism, various behavioral problems can occur in autism, for example: sleep problems, compulsiveness, over-mobility, self-injury, withdrawn behavior, concentration problems, anxiety, eating problems, unpredictable anger and aggression. The behavioral problems can be more or less serious and of short or long duration.

Short period

Although some behavioral problems are only present for a short period of time, they can be a burden for your child and your family or prevent the development of your child. Medications can then improve the situation by reducing these behavioral problems. As a result, social contact with your child can improve, so that more results can be achieved with, for example, home training and education.
Realize, however, that the medicines can reduce the behavioral problems, but that there is also a chance of side effects.

Types of medication and side effects

Side effects, however, are not very common. If side effects occur, they are usually mild. When you have decided to give your child medication, it is important that you pay attention to your child's behavior. It is possible that you see unwanted changes in your child's behavior. It can therefore be useful for you as a parent to keep a diary. In a diary you can keep track of your child's behavior on a daily basis. It is important that you start this before your child starts using the medication and that you continue with it, even if the dose is increased or decreased. This way you can always check whether changes in your child's behavior occur and whether these are the result of the use of medication.

Side effects

If you notice that your child has side effects, it is wise to contact the doctor. The treatment can then be adjusted or stopped in consultation. It is also possible that side effects are short-lived and therefore pass again.
As a parent you have an important role in determining the best treatment for your child!


There is a range of offerings on the market regarding medication. This medication can not be obtained without a prescription, because use should always be followed strictly by a qualified physician or psychiatrist. Practice has often shown that medication in children with autism does not directly have the desired effect. There are cases where the medication showed the opposite effect. The search for the right medication can therefore sometimes take the necessary time.

Burst reduction

The most common medication is used as irritation suppression, aggression regulation, prevention of psychosis, hormones (in women), combination of autism and ADHD. Anti-epileptics and antidepressants are also often used to support / restore the neurotransmitters in the brain. One should take into account possible side effect. The most common side effect is a matt mood. Often the insights of the environment, in the cause of the behavior, the behavior is being tackled and not the child with autism.

Physical pains

Furthermore, support may be required in the optimal functioning of the organs. Common complaints have to do with, among other things, the gastrointestinal tract and headaches / migraine. Physical pains work on your state of mind, but also bring toxins (poison) into the bloodstream that then influence the brain activity.
Fish oil, pro-biotics and other homeopathic or other natural remedies can provide a solution here. Fish oil is innocent in that sense, provided the daily recommended dosage is not exceeded. In children with autism, fish oil has already yielded several positive effects, such as a child who has started to talk more clearly, a child who has become calmer, so that he could concentrate better and a child who generally behaved more relaxed. Fish oil is often the first step that parents take to support their child with medication.

Video: The Signs of Autism

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