What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? autism

Autism is a developmental disability that can cause behavioral, social, learning, and communication issues. People with ASD look like everybody else, but they may learn or behave differently than other people. Some people with ASD are academically gifted, while others are academically challenged. Some people with ASD are independent, and others are not. ASD affects people in many different ways. Autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, and Asperger syndrome all fall under autism spectrum disorder and are no longer diagnosed separately.

What causes ASD?

We currently do not know what causes ASD, although research is being conducted to help learn what causes it. However, there are a few factors that scientists believe may cause autism including:

  • Genes: Most scientists agree that genes have an influence on ASD. Autism occurs more often in people with genetic conditions such as fragile X syndrome.
  • Siblings: People who have siblings with ASD are more likely to also have autism.
  • Medicine: Prescription medicines such as valporic acid thalidomide taken during pregnancy have been liked to children with ASD.
  • Pregnancy: There is evidence that ASD occurs before, during, and after pregnancy.
  • Older parents: Children born to older parents are more likely to develop autism.

Who is at risk for autism?

ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. However, it is 4.5x more likely in boys than in girls.

What are signs that somebody has autism?

Symptoms of autism are typically noticeable early in life and last into adulthood. People with ASD may behave, learn, or interact differently than most people. They also may have specific daily routines and react poorly to change. People with ASD may:

  • Not point at objects they are interested in
  • Not look at objects when somebody else points at them
  • Not be interested in people
  • Have trouble relating to others
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Want to be alone
  • Have trouble talking about feelings or relating to feelings
  • Prefer not to be cuddled or touched unless they initiate it
  • Be unaware when others talk to them but notice other sounds
  • Be interested in other people but not know how to interact with them
  • Repeat words or phrases said to them or use them in place of normal language
  • Have trouble expressing their needs like others
  • Not play pretend games (ex: not pretend the floor is lava)
  • Repeat actions frequently
  • Have trouble accepting change
  • Have unusual reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, looks
  • Lose skills they once had (ex: stop saying words they used to say)

How is autism diagnosed?

Autism can be difficult to diagnose, because there is no medical test that can identify it. Some children can be diagnosed based off of behaviors early, such as 18 months, while others may not receive diagnoses until they are older. Normally, a professional can accurately diagnose autism by the time a child is 2 years old. Because diagnoses can range, some people do not get the help they need as a child.

Can autism be treated?

There is currently no way to treat autism. However, intervention treatment can help improve development in children with ASD. Intervention treatment is therapy for children up to 3 years old that helps them learn how to communicate, walk, and interact with others. It is very important to talk to your doctor if you believe your child may have ASD so they can receive help early on.

If you believe that your child may have ASD, call your healthcare provider. Getting your child help early is very important.

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