Birth Defects Prevention Month: Autism

Girls with autism spectrum disorders, like Asperger's syndrome, often go undiagnosed.

Girls with autism spectrum disorders, like Asperger's syndrome, often go undiagnosed.

Autism is a complex developmental disability and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills, according to the Autism Society of America.

Children with autism are typically diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3 years old, but in some cases, children as young as 18 months can develop signs of the developmental disability. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, according to the National Autism Association.

Researchers have not determined what causes autism. Sherry Sancibrian, M.S., CCC-SLP, professor and director of the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences program, said determining whether autism is considered a birth defect is not a clear yes or no answer.

“Current research suggests that there is a strong genetic component, in which case autism is something you’re born with,” Sancibrian said, “but the jury is still out about some possible environmental causes, so I know there are some folks who would not consider autism a birth defect.”

The cause of autism remains unknown as well. There are rumors that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in several vaccines could contribute to autism spectrum disordersRichard Lampe, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics, does not believe this to be true and encourages parents to have their children immunized.

“Valid scientific studies do not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism,” Lampe said. “It is important to pursue the reasons for autism spectrum disorder, its early detection and treatment. We should not leave our infants and children vulnerable to deadly diseases that vaccines prevent.”

There is no cure for autism, but local organizations like the South Plains Autism Network (SPAN) and the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research are helping West Texas families and Texas Tech students overcome the challenges of living with the disorder.

SPAN is a support group of parents, caregivers, physicians, therapists and teachers who have autism and/or work with children who have autism. The group meets each month during the school year.

At the Burkhart Center, Texas Tech students who have autism may attend educational workshops, take advantage of support services, receive job coaching and participate in social groups and life-skills programs.

Find more autism resources.

Related Stories

Remembering Dr. Tom McGovern

TTUHSC Celebration of Life Service was held March 25th in remembrance of Tom McGovern, Ed.D.

TTUHSC Ranks Fourth Nationally Among Graduate Institutions as a Military Friendly® School

TTUHSC has been named as a Military Friendly® School for 2022-2023. Among graduate schools, TTUHSC ranked fourth in the nation, achieving Gold award status.

TTUHSC Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy Students Celebrate Residency Assignments on Match Day

On March 16, fourth-year TTUHSC Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy students interested in completing a residency after they graduate in May, learned where they would spend the next stage of their training during the Pharmacy Residency Match Day.

Recent Stories


TTUHSC Receives CPRIT Grant to Begin New Outreach Effort

CPRIT recently awarded a $1 million prevention grant to Rakhshanda Rahman, M.D., Rebeccah Baucom, M.D., and John Kidwell, M.D., from the TTUHSC School of Medicine.


Startups Begin Here! Four Startups Awarded $50,000 from TTUHSC President

The Innovation Hub at Research Park today (September 26, 2022) announced the winners of its annual Presidents' Innovative Startup Awards. The award recognizes startups that have a high potential for growth and an economic impact in West Texas.


Fifth Graders Become Doctors for a Day

Fifth graders from Bean Elementary School became doctors for a day. The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) Student National Medical Association (SNMA) hosted the Doctors for a Day Minicamp on Sept. 23.