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The Challenges of Autism

The Challenges of Autism

These characteristics usually appear before the age of three, and boys are four times more likely to develop autism than girls (McGahan, 2001: 8). There is also considerable individual variation in the type and intensity of symptoms.

Although our knowledge of autism disorders has increased steadily over the past decades, researchers, clinicians and the families of autistic children still face many challenges.

The complex causes of autism

Genetic, medical, neurogical or environmental causes?

Diagnosis: Improved accuracy but problems with access

Both researchers and clinicians agree that early, accurate diagnosis is important to ensure early intervention, which in turn enhances the chances to improve the quality of life, and educational and social success of autistic individuals ( Although the accuracy of diagnostic tests has improved significantly in the past decade, there are still problems with access to these tests. In the province of Quebec, for example, the diagnosis of autism requires evaluations by a number of different professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, speech therapists and occupational therapists, etc) working within a healthcare system that is already resource-limited, and in a variety of institutions and departments, (hospitals, clinics, schools, etc). In short, the diagnosis requires several complex steps, and parents end up being placed on multiple waiting lists. This situation not only jeopardises early intervention, but also generates considerable anxiety and anguish (Poirier and Kozminski, 2008).

Treatment: Needs versus available treatments and services

Many therapies. Are they effective? Moreover, as the expression of autistic symptoms varies between individuals, the identification and implementation of an optimal treatment regime is often a process of trial and error. And access to rapid treatment is difficult for the same reasons as outlined above for diagnostic services.

Finally, autism is often accompanied by physical health problems like eating or sleeping disorders, or motor abnormalities. These may require the intervention of specialists like endocrinologists or gastroenterologists, some of whom may not be familiar with PDD or trained to intervene with individuals who exhibit unpredictable behaviour. Unfortunately, many families are left on their own to cope as best they can with the health problems of their autistic children (see our interview with Ms. Lahaie from Autisme Montréal).

Autistic adults: The forgotten ones

Autistic adults are often forgotten

This month, Hinnovic presents the perspectives of parents, clinicians and researchers on autism. These individuals all contribute, in their own unique way, to our understanding of autism and efforts to improve the quality of life of people living with autism.

Author :Myriam Hivon, Ph.D.


Howlin P., Goode S., Hutton J., Rutter M. (2004) Adult outcome for children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45 (2): 212-229.

McGahan L. (2001) Behavioural interventions for preschool children with autism. Ottawa: Canadian Coordinating Office for Health Technology Assessment. Technology report no. 18.

Poirier N. et Kozminski, C. (2008) L’autisme, un jour à la fois. Laval : Les Presses de l’Université Laval.

Wilson K., Mills E., Ross C., McGowan J., Jadad A. (2003) Association of autistic spectrum disorder and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: A systematic review of current epidemiological evidence. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 157 (7): 628-634.


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