Answered: Your Most Burning Questions About Autism


In the last couple of years, the so-called ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement has gained a lot of momentum. Sparked by a now-debunked, since-retracted study by ex-physician that falsely linking the MMR vaccine to autism, it led to parents all over the world being afraid to vaccinate their kids for fear that they may develop the disorder. Despite the potentially fatal risks for children who are unvaccinated and the fact that the supposed autism-vaccine link has been conclusively put to bed, the link between the two words does linger.
Part of the problem is that people’s knowledge on the subject can be limited, as coverage around it tends to sensationalism. In recent years, both international and local schools in China are becoming far more proactive about integrating learners on the autism spectrum and other neuro a-typical students into mainstream education, but before a parent even begins to consider schools best suited for their child with autism, it is important to get a few basic facts covered.

To cut through some of the haze around this sensitive but very important topic, we wanted to go straight to the experts. Dr. Mike Mehrvarz Ph.D., a psychologist at International Medical Center Beijing, and founder of Dr. Mike Learning Land, has spent years in Beijing helping families who are raising autistic children.

Q:I think I or my child may have autism but I’m not sure. How can I find out?
A:Children with autism generally show certain symptoms before age 3 and they also might have a history of some developmental delays. Parents and or caregivers can notice many symptoms as early as even age two or before but it is different in every child. The proper way to find out is to have the child be evaluated by a child psychologist as well as a pediatrician with a specialty in developmental disorders or a pediatric neurologist. Autism symptoms have a range of severity and symptoms, which include difficulties in communication, social interaction, poor eye contact, rocking, talking to oneself, being overly sensitive to touch, smell, light, sound, and many other symptoms.

Q:How is autism diagnosed? Is there a test for it?
A:To diagnose autism, a Child Psychologist needs to do comprehensive psychological and developmental tests, interviews with the parents, collect the mother’s pregnancy history, and observe the child for specific signs. Developmental Pediatrician diagnoses autism using certain medical exams and tests can also be performed. However, for the rehabilitation of these children, it is necessary to conduct several psychological tests including an intelligence test, which is the most important part of the testing protocol for these children.

Q:How can I find out what caused my child’s autism?
A:There isn’t any specific reason found as to the cause of autism at present. Some researchers assume that it might be related to environmental factors, genes, chromosome abnormality, parents’ age, family history, and more. Gene mapping, chromosome analysis, and some other tests done by a developmental specialist physician might give some indications as to the cause of this disorder.

Q:How can I find out if my child’s case is genetic? Can we tell which side of the family the autism came from?
A:There are indications that this disorder can run in the family and being related to parental genes. To find out more about this you can consult with a developmental pediatrician.

Q:If there is no autism epidemic, why do the autism statistics just keep climbing?
A:Unfortunately, it is hard to guarantee the perfect health of a child during pregnancy. Autism is caused by brain abnormalities in different areas. The causes might be related to several factors including gene, environmental factors, toxicity, and a pregnant woman’s health during pregnancy, parents’ age, and many more. Given the above reasons and as I have seen these children in my practice over many years, I guess environmental factors, parents age, woman’s physical and psychological health during pregnancy is quite important for newborn overall health.

Q:How can I be sure vaccines have nothing to do with autism?
A:There have been controversies about the various side effects of different vaccines on children’s brains and overall health for many years, but numerous scientific studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. However, I always stress to parents to please discuss it thoroughly with child pediatrician before having your child vaccinated.

Q:How can I find the best treatments for myself or my child?
A:If children get the right help at a young age, the outcome will be much more effective. Child psychologists with a specialty in the treatment of Autism can perform the full assessments, treat, and do comprehensive rehabilitation. If the child has physical or speech problems, he or she will be referred to a physical or speech therapist for treatment. Treatment of autism is a collaboration between different disciplines, depending on the extent of the severity of Autism symptoms. In mild to moderate cases, all treatment and rehabilitation can be done in an outpatient setting. However, severe cases will require the child to attend specialized schools for ongoing training in many factors depending on the child’s difficulties and needs. With the advancement in technology now, there are some new training programs available for these children, which can help to speed up their rehabilitation.

This article English version was by MARK KARANJA