For most parents and professionals, autism can be a puzzling and complex disorder. This is not surprising since, until quite recently, very little about it has been understood. Though a great deal of its mystery has yet to be uncovered, we definitely know much more about it than we did a decade ago. Just as our understanding has evolved over the years, so has the way we define, diagnose, and treat it.
does autism affect?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cuts across all lines of race, class, and ethnicity.
Autism impacts millions of children, adults, and their families around
the world. Boys have a significantly higher incidence of autism than girls:
out of every five people with autism are male. Because of the genetic link,
siblings of a child with autism have a greater chance of being diagnosed
with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder affects not
only the person diagnosed with the disorder, but also make a significant impact
on the entire family with a variety of social, financial, and other practical
WHAT is autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder defined by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, accompanied by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
The term “spectrum” is crucial to understanding autism, because of
the wide range of intensity, symptoms and behaviors, and
considerable individual variation. Children with ASD may be non-verbal and asocial, as in the case of many with “classic” autism. On the other end of the spectrum are children with a
high-functioning form of autism characterized by idiosyncratic social skills
More information about ASD may be found at
at Autism Navigator.
WHEN is autism diagnosed?
The first signs
of autism most often present themselves
before the age of three; with education and practice, some clinicians have
even been able to
the warning signs in children under the age of one. Often, however, 15
to 18 months is the time parents first notice loss of skills or delays in development.
Please see Hallmark Developmental Milestones and
Red Flags for some of
Autism is characterized by what is clinically described as “deficits
in social reciprocity.” Social reciprocity may include a range of back-and-forth
actions, such as gestures, sounds, play, attention, and conversation. Further,
ritualistic and obsessive behaviors are often present: for example, a child
may insist on lining up toys rather than playing with them. In addition,
a child with autism spectrum disorder may have uncontrollable temper tantrums,
an extreme resistance to change, and over- or under-sensitivity to sights
sounds. The signs may be obvious, or subtle: for example, a three-year-old
child can read, but can’t play peek-a-boo. Another child may never utter
a spoken word, but rather uses pictures or signing to be understood. The
are varied, but one thing is clear: the earlier a child is diagnosed and
begins receiving services, the better the outcome for the child.
a parent of a child with autism go for help?
Help for a child with autism begins at the physician’s office,
with a referral to Early Intervention,
specialists, and other services that
might be covered
by the insurance plan. Six months before a child’s third birthday, parents
should contact their local school district for special educational services.
At all stages of the process, from
diagnosis to making
decisions about educational and
treatment options, parents may benefit from
of support groups, advocacy groups, and other organizations. These groups
can provide a firm base for parent education and action.
WHY does a child have autism?
At this juncture, autism has no known cause or
cure. Today, many parents and physicians are working together to advocate
for increased funding
HOW can I ensure the best developmental outcome for a child with autism?
Children with autism will have the best developmental outcome through
early identification as well as early, intensive, and appropriate intervention.
help promote a
healthy developmental pathway for a child with autism in much the same
way as for a typically-developing child: by being a loving, active,
caregiver, and by working creatively with each child’s unique challenges
WHAT other disorders are often associated
with this profile and should be ruled out or in by a specialist?
Often, you will see one or more overlapping disorders, including
seizures, allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, immune dysfunction,
hyperactivity, obsessive behaviors, anxiety, mood regulation, and
depression. None of these on their own would indicate a presence of
an autism spectrum disorder, however, many children with ASD will
have one or more of these co-morbid symptoms. About 25% of children
with autism will experience seizures during their lifetime. Before
the diagnosis of ASD is given, the following disorders should be
ruled out or in:
Fragile X Syndrome
Developmental Language Disorder
Schizoid Personality Disorder
Reactive Attachment Disorder
Chromosomal and Metabolic Disorders
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