Autism is a type of pervasive developmental disorder. It is characterized by difficulties with social interaction; difficulties with verbal communication, especially pragmatic language; difficulty processing nonverbal communication such as facial expression; intense, narrow interests; difficulty adjusting to changes in routine; and repetitive behaviors. Other signs include lack of eye contact, delayed or unusual play skills, hypo- or hyper-sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and anxiety. It is usually detected by the time a child is four years old but in some cases, autism goes unnoticed into adulthood. There are many intelligent and talented autistic individuals. The term autism was first used in 1912.
Diagnoses of autism has increased from 1:10,000 in 1988 to as high as 1 in 150 people, and it has been rising. Four times as many boys suffer from autism as girls. Among boys, 1 in 94 has the disorder. In New Jersey, which has the highest rate in the nation, 1 in every 60 boys has autism and 1 in every 94 children is affected. There is a seizure disorder in about one-third of those who have autism.
Autism is said to exist on a "spectrum;" that is, there is a wide range of how this disorder affects people. Other pervasive developmental disorders on the "autism spectrum" include Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Rett's Syndrome. There are many degrees of functioning in individuals with autism. Because of this, all individuals diagnosed with autism will not exhibit the same characteristics, or exhibit them to the same degree.
Autism was first identified clinically in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner. Dr. Hans Asperger also did some research into autism at about the same time and discovered Asperger's syndrome. As early as the 1990's, many intervention strategies, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA therapy), were used to treat autism or mitigate its symptoms.
How does autism develop?
Although no one knows how autism develops, experts have focused on physical causes such as environmental toxins, the vaccine preservative thimerosal, and the diet of both the mother (pre-birth and during breastfeeding) and child. Some experts have speculated about genetic predisposition.
Lisa Jo Rudy, mother of an autistic boy, wrote:
- Today, it is generally agreed that autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors -- and unrelated to "cold mothering." 
The Autism Society says, "Researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors, such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals." 
- There are two popular theories linking autism and vaccines. One theory suggests the MMR (Mumps-Measles-Rubella) vaccine causes intestinal problems which lead to the development of autism. This theory was based on the research of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who conducted a study using 12 children to make the connection between autism and the MMR vaccine. However, a recent investigation of this study has concluded that Dr. Wakefield manipulated patient data to support his conclusion, and used questionable research practices when obtaining blood samples from the children in the study.  The second theory suggests that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines, could be a contributor of the development of autism. 
There are claims that environmental toxins increase the risk of autism, just as they increase the risk of cancer. New Jersey has the highest rate of cancer in the nation, presumably due to a heavy concentration of environmental toxins, and it also has the highest rate of autism. Autistic patients are observed to have higher levels of metals and other toxins.
A toxic mercury preservative used in vaccines, thimerosal, is a suspected cause of injury in many recipients, including a cause of increase in autism rates. Thimerosal is an organic form of mercury that was widely used as a preservative. Only after intense public pressure did the FDA and CDC act, in 1999 and 2000, to reduce thimerosal usage in vaccines. But thimerosal continues to be used far more than realized, as in the annual flu vaccine and stockpiles of vaccines left over from years ago. Since thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001, U.S. rates of autism have increased rather than declined, suggesting that thimerosal was not a contributor to autism.
The is enormous pressure to deny that vaccinations are causing autism, as such a revelation would result in political, legal, and financial consequences for those who have been supporting increases in vaccination. As researchers denied smoking caused lung cancer for decades, researchers now claim that vaccination is not causing autism. Many parents who see first-hand the changes in their children immediately shortly after vaccination see a clear cause-and-effect, and some are opting out of vaccination.
Thimerosal is not the only ingredient of vaccines that may be causing the increase in autism. By assaulting the immune system at a very young age, multiple vaccinations may be doing other harm that is not yet fully understood. Autism is a neurological condition, and side effects of vaccination are known to cause other neurological problems.
"Rigorous scientific studies have not identified links between autism and either thimerosal-containing vaccine or the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine" 
Some experts suspect that there is a genetic susceptibility to autism. The genetics of this condition are not fully understood; perhaps caused by complex interactions between multiple genes which would account for the "spectrum" like differences in the severity of many cases 
Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge (U.K.) says that males and females are hardwired for different behavior, with boys tending to be stronger at mechanics, categorizing and systemizing information, mathematics, etc. and girls stronger at emotionalizing and empathizing. He has proposed that autism is merely an extreme version of the male brain type, in which the (female) urge to empathize is nearly absent and the brain is almost entirely hardwired for the (male) tasks of systemizing.
Leo Kanner in a 1949 paper identified "parental coldness" and a "lack of maternal warmth" in the parents of autistic children, leading to the term refrigerator mother. The theory here is autism is caused by incomplete socialization during early childhood because of emotionally cold parents. The book Toxic Psychiatry by Peter Briggin notes that the frigid mother theory of autism was abandoned in recent years due to pressure groups.
Lenny Schafer, editor of the Schafer Autism Report, rejects outright the current characterization of mild social retardation (such as "Asperger's syndrome") as forms of autism. He notes that autism is a disability, and if a person is not disabled from participation in society by their condition, in such areas as being able to hold a job or communicate, including communication over the Internet, they are not autistic and should not be diagnosed as such. He accordingly rejects that there can be such a thing as autistic self-advocacy, as anyone who is truly autistic would not have that ability. This view is highly controversial in the field, and has led to the development of the "autistic spectrum" to better characterize and diagnose autism and autism-like disorders.
Wired magazine has referred to autism as a "geek syndrome", or essentially as a form of identity-politics-for-computer-nerds.. Those favoring this interpretation of autism have coined new terminology, including "neurodiversity" for a population with and without autistic individuals , and using the term "neurotypical" for those without autism.
Signs and Symptoms
According to the DSM-IV, autism is characterized by the following:
1. A significant impairment is social interactions.
- a. Impaired non-verbal communication.
- b. Failure to develop age-appropriate social relationships
- c. Lack of emotional reciprocity
2. Impaired communication.
- a. Delay or lack of age-appropriate verbal communication.
- b. If speech development is age-appropriate, an impaired ability to initiate or sustain conversation.
- c. Repetitive or idiosyncratic speech patterns.
- d. Absence of, or significantly reduced engagement in, age-appropriate social play.
3. Repetitive, stereotyped, or "obsessive" behavior.
- a. Abnormal preoccupation with a limited interest or interests.
- b. Abnormal adherence to behavioral routines and rituals.
- c. Repetitive mannerisms or movements.
Autism and Atheism
Autistic people lack the ability to relate to others and are unable to mentalize - they can not understand the mental state of others. This means they are unlikely to have a relationship with God on a personal level and often tend to be atheists. Being unable mentalize also means lacking the ability to think teleologically (to be able to see a purpose in things), so when autistic people do speak of God it is usually in terms of a set of rules rather than anything personified.
Interventions and Treatments
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) - This is a behavioral intervention which applies the study of behavioral analysis, as well as the tools of this study, toward assisting behaviors of social significance in individuals of many different populations, including children with autism.  Applied behavior analysis is used to increase positive behaviors, decrease interfering behaviors, maintain positive behaviors, teach new skills, and generalize new positive behaviors across many different settings, not just in a restrictive classroom or therapy setting. Therapists begin by observing the behaviors of the individual, focusing on skills and behaviors to reinforce or teach, and identifying interfering behaviors to be minimized. They then develop an intervention plan to reinforce the positive behaviors and skills, by using a system of rewards when the individual receiving the therapy exhibits the behavior that the therapist wants to observe. As the individual incorporates more positive behaviors, the therapist may decrease or change the reinforcement as necessary.
- Developmental, Individual difference and Relationship-based (DIR/Floortime) model - This is a relationship-based intervention, developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, which focuses on developing a connection with the individual with autism, emphasizing the role his or her interests, emotions, and preferences play in developing an effective treatment.  This model emphasizes individual differences in children with autism, and requires caregivers and therapists to approach each child accordingly. It begins with understanding the child's developmental stage, understanding the ways in which the child understands and learns information and processes sensory stimuli, and developing relationships between the child and his or her caregivers and therapists, who tailor their affect and interactions to the child's needs. This model especially emphasizes the importance of parents and caregivers in the process of their child's treatment, because of their unique relationship to the child.
- Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped CHildren (TEACCH) - This approach was developed in the early 1970s by Eric Schopler and colleagues, and focuses on skil development, as well as fulfillment of human needs such as communication, social interaction, increasing feelings of safety and reducing anxiety, and engaging in productive and enjoyable activities. The principles of the TEACCH method of intervention include: understanding the "culture" of autism (what characterizes individuals with autism, such as their thinking patterns and behaviors), developing an individualized approach to intervention for each individual, structuring the physical environment for effective learning, and using visual supports to assist in understanding and retaining routines, structures, and schedules, as well as to make individual tasks understandable.
As with many other children with special needs, homeschooling autistic children can provide a special environment which allows them to florish.
A large body of assistance is available for parents who wish to homeschool their autistic children, including here on Conservapedia.
- Opposing Views: Are Autism and Vaccines Linked?
- Neurodiversity - An Incredible Resource for Autism Related Information
- http://homeschoolaustralia.com/index/specialneeds.html Homeschooling Australia's Autism Page
- Temple Grandin, "Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism" amazon link http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307275655/ref=wl_it_dp/103-3432247-4184629?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1CWNFSEUCIXQL&colid=49VN3HJC5OQK
- [http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:952MmAWeCOsJ:www.jpands.org/vol8no1/geier.pdf+jpands&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=us&client=firefox-a Thimerosal in Childhood Vaccines, Neurodevelopment Disorders, and Heart Disease in the United States]
- Happé F, Ronald A. The 'fractionable autism triad': a review of evidence from behavioural, genetic, cognitive and neural research. Neuropsychol Rev. 2008;18(4):287–304
- Freitag CM. The genetics of autistic disorders and its clinical relevance: a review of the literature. Mol Psychiatry. 2007;12(1):2–22. doi:10.1038/sj.mp.4001896. PMID 17033636
- Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Essential Difference, Basic Books 2003.
- Briggin, Peter R. Toxic Psychiatry, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.