“I am a big believer in early intervention. I am also a believer in an integrated treatment approach to autism. People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet.”
Autism is a developmental disorder, and with current medical knowledge and the best resources we have, is viewed as a brain developing in an atypical manner, believed to be already present before birth. Alone, it is not considered a mental illness, just variation within the human species. It is specific, defined variation though, with clinical markers and actual physiological differences within the brain itself. That’s part of why it’s not considered a mental illness.
Frequently autism can be accompanied by problems that are labeled as mental illness, but they are not necessarily chronic and/or linked. Autistic people are more likely to suffer depression and other neuro-chemical imbalances. In children this is particularly difficult to diagnose and treat.
Autistic children on the less severe end of the spectrum must learn to function within their personal variation, and must learn to read social cues and to interact with other people. Diagnosed children are frequently in therapy as early as two years old. Statistics show that the earlier intervention, occupational and physical therapy are started, where indicated, the better the long-term results. Autistic children are not categorically more prone to violence or harm, and depending on where they fall on the spectrum, frequently their difficulty communicating with typical children and adults is their largest barrier.
The most benign example of typical spectrum reactions and interaction in pop-culture is Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. For a beautiful true-life example, I would suggest anyone interested in learning about children and adults with autism watch the HBO film “Temple Grandin“. Grandin is a remarkable woman with autism who has reformed the animal industry in the United States and worldwide. If you prefer reading, I highly recommend John Elder Robison’s book “Look Me in the Eye“. Robison is another adult with autism who writes exquisitely about his own experience; he helped me understand my own son, and I hold him in high regard.
I am not a doctor. I am not a metal health professional. I am a mother with more than nine years now raising a child with autism. My opinion- while well considered and founded on research, reading, education and experience- is still only an opinion.