They didn’t notice anything different about their baby boy until he was almost two years old. His speech patterns were not developing and he rarely tried to say “Mommy” or “Daddy.” He never joined his older sister in play and he didn’t answer when his name was called.

At first his parents thought maybe he was deaf, but after some tests were done, they realized his hearing was fine. Something else was causing their son to be unable to react to the world around him. The cause of his unusual behaviour turned out to be a developmental disorder called autism.

What is Autism?

Autism is a syndrome that affects the brain and behaviour, and is caused by a problem in the central nervous system that leads to disordered development. It was first identified in 1943, but evidence shows it has existed throughout recorded history. It happens in all cultures and social groups, and affects more boys than girls. According to the Autism Society of Canada, the rate of autism now appears to be at least one in every 286 births in Canada.

It is important to remember that autism is not a psychological problem, nor is it a result of poor parenting; it is a developmental disability. There are many theories as to what triggers the first problem with the central nervous system that leads to autism, but there are no clear answers.


There are a wide variety of symptoms that are possible signals that a child may be autistic, which range from mild to very serious. Of course, people must always talk to a medical professional for an official, knowledgeable opinion. Some examples of autistic characteristics are:

• Speech and language progress are delayed or completely missing;

• Repetitive behaviour: spinning objects, flapping hands, pacing the floor, etc.;

• Lack of spur-of-the-moment communication with others. For example, never pointing out an object of interest to a parent;

• Not having different kinds of natural “make believe” play that is good for them at their age’s development level;

• Not making eye contact with anyone;

• Walking only on tiptoes for a long period of time;

• Does not answer when his or her name is called or when asked a question;

• No interest in toys;

• When picked up does not shift his or her own weight to adjust for the movement;

• Does not like certain sounds or the feel of certain materials;

• Either extremely passive behaviour or extremely nervous, active behaviour;

• Aggressive behaviour toward others or to himself or herself.

Having one or two of these characteristics does not mean

your child is autistic, however if he or she shows several of

these combined, you should consult a medical professional.

Who is affected by Autism?

Anyone who has been affected by autism, whether it is the child, parents, siblings, or extended family, can tell you it has a great effect. Acceptance and love are the first steps that must be taken. People must know that there is no one to blame. No one knows why autism happens to certain kids, but when it does happen it must be understood and dealt with right away.

The key to getting help for an autistic child is to get a solid diagnosis as soon as possible. Once the autism is identified, there are many things that a parent can do in order to make sure their child gets the proper care and effective treatments that will help them. This includes gathering information, seeking professional help and gaining practical knowledge about this disorder. Sharing this information with loved ones also encourages extended family and friends to understand autism, which in turn helps the larger community.

Where to Go For Help

• Cree Patient Services

In Montreal (514) 989-1393

For general information and referrals

• The Montreal Children’s Hospital: Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic

(514)412-4400, ext.23099

This clinic offers a wide range of services geared toward diagnosing and treating suspected autism. They also offer a parent group to provide support and education. Call the number above for more information.

• Kahnawake Step-By-Step Child and Family Centre

(450) 635-8498

The Kahnawake Step-By-Step Child and Family Centre was created as a result of the concerns of parents regarding the lack of services for their children who have disabilities. The centre offers daycare services, as well as specialized care for children with autism. They are also active in promoting awareness and understanding of developmental disorders, the prevention of disability and the successful integration of disabled persons into the community.


For a complete list of symptoms and other important information, please visit these web pages:


Autism Fact Sheet: m?format=printable

Montreal Children’s Hospital:

Personal Experiences with Autism: