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An early diagnosis for autism is sometimes missed because of the stereotypes that exist about this disorder. Sometimes even excellent productions like the movie "Rain Man" can unintentionally cement a particular image of autism as being representative of all people with autism. But people with autism exhibit a wide of range symptoms and some common clinical misconceptions include:

Children with autism …
Make no eye contact. Look at or through you, but eye contact has no social purpose.
Are not affectionate. Can be affectionate on their own terms.
Do not talk. Can use advanced words, but they have no function.
Do not point. Usually develop the pointing skill later.
Are geniuses. Can have intellectual functioning that ranges from severe mental retardation to normal intelligence.
Have no hope for improvement. Can experience positive outcomes with early and intensive intervention.

Contrary to what some people expect, children with autism may make some eye contact, smile, and hug. The child at risk for autism, however, will make these seemingly-affectionate gestures on his own terms, and such gestures may be difficult to elicit from him by even his parents. Most importantly, these gestures many lack genuine affective contant and are generally socially neutral.

Children with ASD may be nonverbal, but they might also demonstrate seemingly advanced speech. When children with ASD are verbal, however, their utterances rarely have communicative intent. They may just be imitating songs, rhymes, or television advertisement jingles. If a caregiver reports “Oh he is always singing and talks a lot,” evaluate what he talks about, what kind of words he is using, and if he is using them functionally.

Perhaps the most noted misconception of autism is that children with autism are actually "geniuses or prodigies" like the character Dustin Hoffman played in the movie "Rain Man." While some people with autism may have unique abilities, the Intellectual functioning of people with autism ranges from severe mental retardation to normal intellectual functioning.

And finally, a tragic myth of autism is that it carries a dismal prognosis. In the past, the diagnosis of autism may have been avoided due to the stigma associated with it and the misconception that no improvement is possible with this disorder. However, with early diagnosis and intensive intervention, children with autism can experience positive outcomes.

Illinois AAP


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About half of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can be diagnosed soon after their first birthday.

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Ryan, Age 23