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What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe a group of neuron developmental disorders.

These disorders are characterized by problems with communication and social interaction. People with ASD often demonstrate restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped interests or patterns of behavior.

ASD is found in individuals around the world, regardless of race, culture, or economic background. Autism does occur more often in boys than in girls, with a 4 to 1 male-to-female ratio.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

We now know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, and each person with autism can have unique strengths and challenges.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors influence the development of autism, and autism often is accompanied by medical issues such as:

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders

  • Seizures

  • Sleep disturbances

Many people with autism also have sensory issues. These can include aversions to certain sights, sounds and other sensations. Autism’s hallmark signs usually appear by age 2 to 3. Often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier.

What are the different types of autism?

  • with or without accompanying intellectual impairment

  • with or without accompanying language impairment

  • associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor

  • associated with another neuro developmental, mental, or behavioral disorder

  • autistic disorder

  • Aspergers syndrome

  • pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

  • childhood disintegrative disorder


What are the symptoms of autism?

Autism symptoms typically become clearly evident during early childhood, between 12 and 24 months of age. However, symptoms may also appear earlier or later. Early symptoms may include a marked delay in language or social development. Symptoms of autism divide into two categories: problems with communication and social interaction, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or activities.

Problems with communication and social interaction include:

    • Issues with communication, including difficulties sharing emotions, sharing interests, or maintaining a back-and-forth conversation

    • Issues with nonverbal communication, such as trouble maintaining eye contact or reading body language

    Difficulties developing and maintaining relationships.


Restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or activities include:

  • Repetitive movements, motions, or speech patterns.

  • Rigid adherence to specific routines or behaviors.

  • An increase or decrease in sensitivity to specific sensory information from their surroundings, such as a negative reaction to a specific sound.

  • Fixated interests or preoccupations.

Individuals are evaluated within each category and the severity of their symptoms is noted.

In order to receive an ASD diagnosis, a person must display all three symptoms in the first category and at least two symptoms in the second category.



What causes autism?

The exact cause of ASD is unknown. The most current research demonstrates that there’s no single cause.

Some of the suspected risk factors for autism include:

  • Having an immediate family member with autism.

  • Genetic mutations.

  • Fragile X syndrome and other genetic disorders.

  • Being born to older parents.

  • Low birth weight.

  • Metabolic imbalances.

  • Exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins.

  • A history of viral infections.

  • Both genetics and environment may determine whether a person develops autism.


How is autism treated?

There are no “cures” for autism, but therapies and other treatment considerations can help people feel better or alleviate their symptoms.

Many treatment approaches involve therapies such as:

  • Behavioral therapy

  • Play therapy

  • Occupational therapy

  • Special education

  • Speech therapy

Some people on the spectrum may respond well to certain approaches, while others may not.


How does autism affect kids?

Children with autism may not reach the same developmental milestones as their peers, or they may demonstrate loss of social or language skills previously developed. For instance, a 2 year old without autism may show interest in simple games of make-believe. A 4 year old without autism may enjoy engaging in activities with other children. A child with autism may have trouble interacting with others or dislike it altogether. Children with autism may also engage in repetitive behaviors, have difficulty sleeping, or compulsively eat nonfood items. They may find it hard to thrive without a structured environment or consistent routine. If your child has autism, you may have to work closely with their teachers to ensure they succeed in the classroom.

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