Autism is a complex developmental disorder that usually appears before the age of 3. It impairs normal brain development in the areas of communication skills and social interaction. Individuals with autism typically have difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and leisure or play activities. Symptoms can range from very mild to severe. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, and the number is increasing. It is more common in children than diabetes, spinal bifida, cancer, and Down Syndrome. Autism is not influenced by racial, ethnic or social factors, and it is four times more common in boys than girls. It is part of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders.
Autism spectrum disorders can often be reliably detected by the age 3, and in some cases as early as 18 months. Studies suggest that many children may be accurately identified by the age of 1 year or even younger. Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child. In some cases, the baby seemed different from birth, unresponsive to people or focusing intently on one item for long periods of time. The first signs of autism can also appear in children who seem to have been developing normally. When an engaging, babbling toddler suddenly becomes silent, withdrawn, self-abusive, or indifferent to social situations, something is wrong. Pediatricians, family physicians, daycare providers, and teachers may initially dismiss signs of autism, optimistically thinking the child is just a little slow and will “catch up.” Research has shown that parents are usually correct about noticing developmental problems. The appearance of any of the warning signs of autism is reason to have a child evaluated by a professional specializing in these disorders.
There is no known cure for autism. However, studies indicate that early intervention in suitable educational settings results in improved outcomes for most children with autism. The earlier the diagnosis of autism is made, the sooner the child can be helped through treatment interventions.
Some traits of autism:
- Speaks only one or two words
- Doesn’t respond to name
- Loses language or social skills they once had
- Little or no eye contact
- Excessively lines up toys or other objects
- Is attached to one particular toy or object
- Doesn’t smile
- At times seems to be hearing impaired
- Indifferent to other people and prefers to be alone
- Resists attention, hugs or cuddling
- Over sensitivity to certain sounds or textures
- Laughing or crying for no apparent reason
- Repeated arm-flapping
- Walks on their toes
- Bangs their head
Information provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.