Autism & Asperger's Syndrome Expert Forum
Autism versus Traumatic Brain Injury?
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Questions in the Autism & Asperger's Syndrome forum are answered by researchers at the New England Center for Children. Topics covered include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Antisocial Personality Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Autism, blindness, bullying, clinical depression, deafness, dyslexia, mental retardation, and social alienation.

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Autism versus Traumatic Brain Injury?

My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 2.5 years old. He has all the typical symptoms such as delayed speech, repetitive behaviours such as hand flapping. He has a tendency to line up his toys, he has inconsistent eye contact and doesn't respond to his name. Although I do know there is no definitive cause,
I am obsessed with what has caused his autism, because I also have an 11 month year old (showing no symptoms yet) and I'm worried it is something I did and I will make the same mistake.

When my son was 4 month, he fell out of his baby chair. I saw it happening but couldn't react fast enough. I hadn't buckled him in. He never lost consciousness. He fell face down. I immediately took him to the doctor who said he did not appear to have a concussion, but told me to watch for vomiting. He had a small red mark on his forehead.  He never vomited and he seemed to be his usual self thereafter, but I have read that the effects of traumatic brain injury sometimes don't appear for years and that a small fall bump to head can be just as damaging as a hard bump. Is it possible his autism is the result of a head injury? Can the TBI cause the same symptoms as ASD?

Thank you for your help.
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Although TBI can cause a variety of behavioral changes and learning delays, it sounds like your son has a very classic presentation of autism. I think it’s very unlikely that the fall was responsible.  At this point, it’s most important to focus on his treatment – early intervention is key to achieving the best outcome.  If you haven’t already started intervention services for him, you should speak with your pediatrician to get referrals for the necessary services (hopefully, in-home or school early intervention services by a behavior analyst, and possibly a speech and language pathologist if needed).
Good luck  
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TBI can cause the same symptoms as seen in ASD through the development of attachment disorders as a result of the trauma, but it does not sound likely in your case, and I do not think that you should worry about it.

If you are very concerned about it you should talk with your doctor about it.
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Jason C Bourret, Ph.D., BCBA-DBlank
The New England Center for Children
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