Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as it’s called today, is a developmental disability that affects people in a number of different ways. It’s considered a spectrum disorder because of the wide-ranging symptoms and varying degrees of behaviors. This means that some individuals with Autism may have only mild behaviors, while others on the spectrum will be affected with more severe behaviors and intellectual disabilities.
Every child develops at his/her own pace, but ASD can be identified by watching for core symptoms in the following areas:
* Social interactions — poor eye contact, difficulty understanding others’ feelings, inability to make friends and build relationships with other children
* Verbal and non-verbal communication — speech delays or no speech at all, repeating words and phrases, difficulty interpreting implied meanings
* Interests and Sensitivities — very narrow or very intense interests, the need for routines and sameness, stereotypical behaviors like hand flapping and rocking
Autism is often noticeable before age two and usually diagnosed before age three.
The causes of Autism are still being studied, but research shows that it can be genetic. This means that certain people have genes that put them at risk for ASD. Birth-related factors also appear to play a role, such as children conceived by parents of an advanced age, a mother who is ill during pregnancy, or an infant who is deprived of oxygen during childbirth. No single factor causes Autism, but when birthing factors are combined with genetic risks, the chances are increased.
Autism affects over 3 million people in the United States (approximately 1% of the population), and is 4-5 times more common in boys than in girls.
The sooner a child with autism is diagnosed, the sooner they can receive treatment. Early intervention can make a big difference in progress and outcomes for children on the spectrum. Research shows that the most common and effective treatments of ASD include evidence-based therapies such as Applied Behavior Analysis Intervention (ABA), Speech and Language Therapy and/or Occupational Therapy.
As a child with Autism grows into adulthood, they may require continued services and even assisted living. But many will experience significant progress, making them able to find employment and live a fulfilling, independent life. And some, thanks to continued treatment, will grow up to be considered free of ASD entirely.
If you’ve studied the signs and symptoms of ASD and have specific concerns about your child, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Keep in mind that not all physicians are knowledgeable about Autism. If you don’t feel like your child’s issues are being addressed, move on and seek a second opinion. Contact a developmental pediatrician, developmental psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation. Never be afraid to ask specific questions when making an appointment to confirm that the professional has specific knowledge and experience diagnosing and treating Autism Spectrum Disorder.
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