Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
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What is autism?
Autism is a developmental brain disorder. It affects your social, behavioral, and communication skills. People who have autism start showing signs at an early age. The degree of autism varies from person to person. Because of this, healthcare providers often refer to autism as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People who have mild symptoms may be considered “high-functioning.”
Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is the most common ASD. It is a form of “high-functioning” autism. Typically, people who have AS have a normal to high IQ. They may exhibit a special skill or area of interest. Their verbal language development is considered normal. However, people who have AS can have trouble using language correctly in social situations. They often have a hard time with nonverbal communication, such as making eye contact, reading facial expressions, and using body gestures. General social skills, such as developing relationships and adjusting to change, also can be affected. People who have AS can learn these skills through behavior and communication therapy.
What are the symptoms of autism?
People with autism can have a range of symptoms. Some are common, and some depend on the severity of the disorder. Your child may:
- Avoid physical touch or eye contact
- Not respond to voices or other sounds
- Not respond to their name
- Not talk
- Not understand gestures or body language
- Rock back and forth, spin or bang their head
- Stare at parts of an object, such as the wheels of a toy car
- Fixate on certain topics or things
- Not pretend or play make-believe games
- Be concerned with order, routine or ritual and becomes upset if routine is disturbed or changed
- Have a flat facial expression or uses a monotone voice
- Be unafraid of danger and accidentally cause injuries
Approximately 20% of children who have autism develop normally for the first 1 to 2 years of their lives. Then, they experience what doctors call a regression. This means that they lose skills that they had before, such as the ability to talk.
On the other hand, some autistic children gain special skills. For example, they may be able to do complex math problems in their heads. Abilities like these are less common.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes autism?
Healthcare providers aren’t sure what causes autism. Some studies have shown that the cause is genetic (runs in families). Certain medical problems or something in your child’s surroundings may also play a role. In many cases, the cause of a child’s autism is never known. Boys are more likely than girls to have autism. As healthcare providers continue to study autism, they may learn more about what causes it.
Vaccines do not cause autism. This includes the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Vaccines are an important part of your child’s health. If you have concerns about the safety of vaccines, contact your healthcare provider.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How is autism diagnosed?
There is no lab test that can detect autism. Talk to your healthcare provider if your child does not behave as expected for their age. If your healthcare provider thinks your child has autism, they will probably suggest that your child see a child psychiatrist or other specialist. The specialist will probably observe your child for signs of autism.
Can autism be prevented or avoided?
More children are being diagnosed with autism. However, it’s not clear if this really means that more children have autism. It may mean that parents, teachers and healthcare providers are better at recognizing the signs of autism.
How is autism treated?
Children don’t “outgrow” autism, and it cannot be cured. There is no medicine that treats autism itself, but medicine may help with some of the symptoms of autism, such as aggressive behavior or sleeplessness. Research has shown that very intense behavior and language therapy may help some children. With therapy, some children may improve as they mature. Contact your healthcare provider about what kind of treatment is best for your child.
Living with autism
People who have autism can live normal, healthy lives. They may see and react to things in different ways. They may have a harder time paying attention. As a parent, you may need to find other ways to teach and connect with your child. Work with you healthcare provider or specialist to improve your child’s lifestyle. This could mean creating routines or habits so your child feels safe and relaxed. It is important to do this at a young age. It can help your child cope better when they become an adult.
Ask your healthcare provider to recommend a counselor or support group. This can help you, your child, and the whole family.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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