Autism Spectrum Disorder

A child with autism in glasses sits on the sofa and is sad, angry and throws a soft toy dinosaur

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.