Autism, autism spectrum disorders and Asperger’syndrome describe the range of complex neurological disorders the symptoms of which are manifest early in life. The core symptoms relate to impaired social interactions for example diminished eye contact, communication abnormalities such as gibberish and parroting back, delayed or absent imaginative play development and often behavioural rigidity (tantrums in response to change). Sensory difficulties (touch, loud noise) are also often present. The present state of knowledge does not allow us to know what may cause autism, although certain conditions (Fragile X, Tuberous sclerosis) are associated with the diagnosis.   Three quarters of children with autism also have developmental delay.

Autism is usually diagnosed in the preschool period, whilst Asperger’s Syndrome is more commonly diagnosed in the primary school years. The diagnosis of autism is generally more reliable after the age of three, although there are many Rating Scales/Assessment Instruments to assist with diagnosis. Frequently parents have been reassured earlier – “he’ll grow out of it, boys are slower than girls”.

Assessment requires an experienced clinician conducting a detailed examination, preferably with input from speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychology. The public sector offers the “multidisciplinary team” which is a good model, but may have a long waiting time.

If, as a parent, you have significant concerns with the areas outlined above and your concerns are shared by the kindergarden teacher or maternity chid health nurse, consult your GP. Melbourne is well supplied with paediatricians, psychologists, and child psychiatrists who are highly experienced in this area. The Royal Children’s Hospital website is a good place to start.   The preceding paragraph was written by Dr Michael Welham DPM, Paediatric and Adolescent Psychiatrist.

There is also a large body of literature which implicates perinatal infection and the immune system as having a possible role in the causation of autism spectrum disorders. A literature review is presented below to illustrate this:

If a patient has had a child diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorder, appropriate investigations in the mother should be undertaken before embarking on a further pregnancy.