Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that can adversely affect a person’s social interactions, communication skills, and behavior. Parents and other caregivers often notice symptoms very early – during the first three years of life – during a child’s early interactions with others.
While some children with autism also experience some degree of intellectual disability, it is not a symptom of autism. Many individuals with autism display remarkable intellectual ability.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
An individual with autism may display any of the following behaviors:
- Not looking at objects that would ordinarily draw interest, even when other people point at them
- Having difficulty relating to others or showing no interest in socializing with others.
- Preferring to be alone rather than with peers
- Avoiding eye contact with others
- Not wanting to be held or cuddled
- Repeating words or phrases that are said to them but not being able to use them appropriately in conversation
- Repeating actions over and over, even after being told not to
- Having difficulty adapting to a new environment or changes in routine
- Speaking little or not at all
- Speaking with an unnatural tone or rhythm
- Reacting unusually to the way things feel, look, smell, sound, and taste
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder
There is no medical test to diagnose autism. Often, the process begins with a screening by a pediatrician to look for developmental problems and rule out others. Another provider will follow up with a more thorough evaluation of a child’s social skills, communication, and behaviors. In addition, a child’s caregivers are usually asked to provide information about what they and others have observed.
Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Early intervention services are most likely to have a positive effect on a child’s future development. Parents and caregivers with concerns should reach out to a health-care provider as soon as possible to schedule a screening. Specific treatments include:
- Developmental therapies, such as speech or occupational therapy
- Behavioral treatments
- Educational support
- Medication to reduce harmful or disruptive behaviors
- Alternative therapies
Causes and Risk Factors of Autism Spectrum Disorder
There has been no research or study that points to a definitive cause of autism. However, scientists believe that biological, environmental, and genetic factors can increase a child’s risk of developing autism. These include:
- Biological sex: Boys are about four times morel ikely to develop autism than girls.
- Genetics: Children who have siblings diagnosed with autism are more likely to show symptoms.
- Other medical problems, such as chromosomal abnormalities.
- Being born before 26 weeks’ gestation.
- Parents ages: Children born to older parents may have a higher risk, but more research is required to establish a link.
No reliable study has shown that a link exists between autism and childhood vaccines.