Autism spectrum disorder is a disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life. Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
Children with autism have trouble with communication. They have trouble understanding what other people think and feel. This makes it hard for them to express themselves, either with words or through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.
Some children have signs of autism in early childhood, such as less eye contact, lack of response when called by name, or indifference to caregivers. Other children may develop normally during the first months or years of life, but then suddenly become introverted or aggressive, or lose language skills that they have acquired. In general, the signs are seen at 2 years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today. More children are diagnosed with autism now than ever before. But the latest numbers could be higher because of changes in how it’s diagnosed, not because more children have a disorder.
People with autism might have problems with learning. Their skills might develop unevenly. For example, they could have trouble communicating but be unusually good at art, music, math, or memory. Because of this, they might do especially well on tests of analysis or problem-solving.
There is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with autism may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.
Autism runs in families, so certain combinations of genes may increase a child’s risk. A child with an older parent has a higher risk of autism. Other risk factors include, if a pregnant woman is exposed to certain drugs or chemicals, like alcohol or anti- seizure medications, her child is more likely to be autistic. Diabetes and obesity are metabolic conditions which are also high risk factors. Research has also linked autism to untreated phenylketonuria (also called PKU, a metabolic disorder caused by the absence of an enzyme) and rubella (German measles).
One of the most important controversies in autism spectrum disorder is whether there is a link between this disorder and some childhood vaccines. Despite extensive research, no reliable study has shown such a link between autism spectrum disorder and vaccines.
There is currently no cure for autism. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old learn important skills. Therapy can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others.
Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. Early intervention programs for very young children with autism – some as young as 18 months – is effective for improving IQ, language ability, and social interaction, a comprehensive new study has found.By starting as soon as the toddler is diagnosed, there is much hope to maximize the positive impact of the intervention.
Infant brains are quite malleable so early therapy capitalizes on the potential of learning that an infant brain has in order to limit autism’s deleterious effects.