Do children really become autistic?

I think we’ve all heard stories about how Jimmy or Mary was a perfectly normal baby, but when s/he was two and got their shots, they immediately became autistic. Does that really happen, though? Or do people only realize that their children aren’t neurotypical once there are more milestones that they didn’t reach as readily as other children?

I worked with a little boy with autism and according to statements in his case file, his parents knew that he wasn’t interacting in a typical way when he was only a few months old. Were his parents more observant/objective than parents who report that there kids were neurotypical until ___ (usually having the MMR shot) turned them into a child with autism, or did symptoms show up much later in those other children? And do people other than parents, who might be considered slightly more objective, who saw the kids frequently also report that kids they know were “fine” as babies before becoming autistic?

You appear to be right. According to a recent study, signs of autism can be apparent during the second 6 months of a baby’s life, but most parents do not recognize that anything is wrong until much later. (Another link.)

This may in part be denial. My nephew has an autism spectrum disorder and his uncles and aunts were all firmly convinced that there was something wrong for almost a year before his (smart and wealthy) parents were willing to admit it - when he was about 3 years old, and still not talking, IIRC. (When they finally acknowledged a problem, he got some excellent therapy, and now, in his late teens, he is very high functioning in most respects.)

As I understand it, the medical view is that the underlying disorder is present from birth (and is at least partly genetic), although the symptoms may not be apparent in a very young infant. But heck, in a newborn it is hard to tell even if they are blind. Newborn babies are too uncoordinated to tell anything much from their behavior.

I am not sure there is really a debate here, though, this is a factual issue.

There’s been at least one study done of home videos of children with autism. The children in the videos were between 9-12 months. The study claims that it’s possible to see behavior in the videos, even at that young age, which corresponds to the child’s later diagnosis of autism, some other developmental disability or neuro-typical (ie - “normal”) development.

Here’s a lnk where you can find more about the study:
Autism During Infancy: A Retrospective Video Analysis of Sensory-Motor and Social Behaviors at 9–12 Months of Age by Grace T. Baranek.

So there’s that. Here’s another article with someone who mentions in passing finding autism symptoms in infants via their birthday videos:

And here’s a site which talks about early detection as a means for early intervention. There’s a lot of early detection info there:

So yeah, it seems that generally, autism is considered to be something a child is born with, not something they catch later in life. It makes sense that a child’s early poor development might not be as obvious until they reach toddlerhood and are clearly behind the other kids on the playground. A family with less experience could easily think everything is fine at first.

The are multiple studies, as already noted, that have reviewed home movies which have shown subtle difference in the behaviors of children who later are identified as autistic and children who do not as early as six months. In general these studies document early differential attention to stimuli of social vs nonsocial significance, in shifting and sharing attention, and some subtle motor differences. There are also reports that some sensory processing differences (both hyper and hyposensitivity to various inputs relative to normal populations) are of early onset as well. It does seem that some core processing difference is present in children early on which becomes more significant with the advent of more complex processing requirements and as deficient processing results in various needs being unmet and as children instead develop in an increasingly distorted (relative to “neurotypical”) fashion.

Most of the time the impression of a sudden change is more likely the sudden change in the parents’ perception than the reality - somewhat akin to how we flip from seeing the vase to the two faces in those figure-ground illusions.

That said there are a certain minority of cases, perhaps as much as 20% of all cases, that do appear to have true regression of milestones. Even in those children however it appears that atypical behaviors were extant prior to the apparent regression. (Cite.)

I know a psychologist who’s been involved in research relating to children with autism, and she’s told me that one reason why signs of autism may be less clear in very young children could be because their brains are still developing rapidly and are more “flexible” than they will be later. As mentioned above, small children can display signs of autism that would be recognized by an expert, but although their brains are not developing in exactly the usual way the early flexibility may compensate to some extent – for the first couple of years. But after a certain point the neural pathways become more “fixed”, and the child is stuck with a brain that did not develop the same way as most other people’s brains.

To the parents it may seem like the child was developing typically and then stopped or even regressed, but the problem was building all along. It only became obvious once the child’s brain reached a certain stage in the maturation process, but this was not the result of some sudden external change.

It may also be that some parents either don’t notice or aren’t worried about “quirks” in their child’s behavior until it becomes clear that the child’s language abilities are impaired. Babies don’t talk anyway, so in that regard autistic babies are “perfectly normal”. But when the kid gets a little older and still isn’t speaking, or is learning to speak but not at the same rate or as well as other kids, it’s going to be obvious to the parents that something is up.

It’s more difficult because autism is a spectrum disorder, and children naturally develop at different rates. That means that it’s hard to tell if your toddler is just a bit different and will catch up, or has real problems that will need help (which, at the higher end of the spectrum, is the real difference).

At the higher ends of the spectrum, it’s not so much about being unable to speak, but being unable to communicate socially with people at the same level as kids of the same age. Since kids don’t really start communicate socially till they’re at least 18 months old, it’s not surprising that parents don’t notice differences in social communication until they’re that age - it’d be like expecting someone to notice that a 1 month old can’t walk, if you see what I mean.

My daughter is autistic and I first referred her to child guidance for extra help when she was 3, after noticing that she was different from the age of 2, when she started part-time nursery; she got banned from ballet, FFS!. :smiley: Prior to that, her differences hadn’t presented a problem because I understood her and the things she was doing didn’t cause her difficulties.

The same goes for lots of other kids - their main parental carer goes back to work after a year or two or three and that’s when the problems become apparent.

High-spectrum autism isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, after all, not like total blindess, but a problem in relating to other people; if the people around the child have adapted to the child’s needs, then it won’t be a problem. When ‘the people around the child’ equals their parent and a few other people, usually with the parent still around, it’s easy. When the child has to function in wider society, not so much.

It’s pure coincidence that the age at which children tend to have to interact more with wider society and are expected to be able to ‘play’ properly, is the same at which the MMR vaccination has its first round. The only correlating factor is age.

If you guys don’t mind a personal anecdote: When I was declared dead for 45 minutes as a 15*-month-old, when I was finally revived, my parents were told that I’d likely be autistic. And for a while, they thought I was. But I essentially grew out of it. Retroactively, the doctors say I only had chronic OCD, which merely presented quite similarly to the autism-spectrum disorder known as Asperger Syndrome. But every therapist/psychologist I have seen since has sworn up-and down that there is no way I have any pervasive developmental disorders.

Oh, and my (near) death was caused by, get this, a seizure from a high fever following an MMR vaccine. So apparently, the doctors at that time thought that an vaccine may have had at least some way to cause autism. And, Other than my OCD, which was controlled pretty well by medicine (until the screwed it up.), I’m perfectly fine. Like Farah Faucet with her child, they were apparently wrong.

*I’ve been saying 16, but my mom corrected me.

Another personal anecdote: A close friend of mine has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. My friend (with no real prior knowledge of autism) noticed significant changes in his sons behavior shortly after a series of vaccinations. He became obsessed with his shoelaces for one thing. I think junior was about 3 at the time.

Despite my friends conviction that vaccines were the culprit, I recently read an article that bashes the vaccine theory: A Broken Trust: Lessons from the Vaccine–Autism Wars | PLOS Biology

When I mentioned the article to my friend he didn’t even want a link to it.

He is CONVINCED that his son BECAME autistic after getting the shots.

The kid is doing well BTW. He loves basketball and as a 9 year old he can sink 10+ shots in a row from the foul line. I think his record is close to 20…

The risk is everything you do, every little thing is read into as a symptom “having aspergers” and being “different” and having “issues”. Having normal human emotions* and its because “the chemicals in your brain are unbalanced.”

Here, take Fluoxetine. ^

Throughout puberty, when your brain is developing. We’re not quite sure what affect it’ll have, but take it anyway! You’re mentally ill, sorry, unbalanced because of your aspergers.

Your entire identity is around your “disability”. Don’t you dare disagree. This is serious.

What do you mean, maybe you just had a rough childhood and you’re perfectly fine now? That’s impossible, your brain chemicals are unbalanced… you have aspegers. No, you couldn’t have grown out of it. ^

*My current shrink, parents have been making me go for various ones for years, agrees. I don’t have anger issues, I just don’t like being blamed for things and yelled at all the time.
^ This, my friends, is what is called a bad psychiatrist.
I’m pretty sure its genetic, my mother shows far more “signs” than I do. :rolleyes:

On a related note, I did the shoelace thing as well. (They were uncomfortable damnit! :P) Buckles and velcro. nods

And on the bright side I got concessions in school and extra ‘free’ marks because I supposedly had/have a “learning disability”. Awkward, that. I was against it, but y’know, who listens to children? Extra marks. shrugs

Obviously the situation and severity is different, but with some work, he mightn’t even need much, your friend’s son should be fine. It’s only aspergers, not fullblown autism.

As a parent of a special needs child that manifests some autistic tendancies, I have realized a few things.

It would be very satisfying o be able to ‘blame’ someone or something for my childs condition. I can fully emphathislze with this reaction.

Second, well meaning but clueless assholes would volunteer to tell you that your child is autistic or spoiled or needs a whipping or some other stereotype.

BTW, my daughter suffered hypoxic damagew at birth. Pretty direct link between that and the way she is now if one knows that pertinent fact.