Autism is a brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, to reason, and to interact with others. It is a spectrum disorder that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees of severity, and it is often found in combination with other disabilities.

The terms “autism” (from the Greek “autos” for “self”) and “autism spectrum disorder” are often used interchangeable and refer to three of five disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).

​The three “autism spectrum disorders” are: Autistic Disorder, Asberger’s Disorder, and PDD-NOS (Not Otherwise Specified). The other PDDs, which are less common, are Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett’s Disorder.

​How common is Autism?
Autism is more common than childhood cancer, cystic fibrosis, and multiple sclerosis combined. It is also a lifelong disability.

1 out of every 64 babies born today will develop some form of autism. This means that an estimated 1.5 million Americans (children and adults) have autism today, and another 15 million Americans (loved ones, health care professionals, caregivers, and educators) are directly impacted by the disorder.

Autism is four times more common in boys than girls, and it is found equally in all walks of life and in all populations around the world.

What are the signs of autism?
  • ​Spins objects; sustained odd play
  • Aloof manner; difficulty mixing with others
  • Repetitive movements (hand-flapping, rocking)
  • Laughs/cries/shows distress for no clear reason
  • Little or no eye contact; may not want cuddling
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills (may not kick a ball but can stack blocks)
  • Severe language deficits
  • Difficulty expressing needs; gestures or points instead of speaking
  • Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf
  • Echolalia (repeats words instead of responding)
  • Insists on sameness; inflexible about routines
  • Inappropriate attachment to objects
  • Noticeable physical over- or under-activity
  • Over- or under-sensitivity to pain, light, sounds

Time-Related Red Flags
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No pointing or gesturing by 12 months
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No two-word spontaneous phrases by 24 months
  • Any loss of language at any time

Notes: Individuals with autism may exhibit many but not all of the above symptoms. Also, this list is not a substitute for a full-scale diagnostic assessment.

How is autism diagnosed?
Autism typically appears by age 3, though diagnosis and intervention can and should begin earlier. Diagnosis is based on observation of the person’s communication, behavior, and developmental levels by a team of professionals. There are no medical tests for autism. However, many of the behaviors of autism are shared by other disorders, so medical tests may be done to rule out other possible disabilities.

What causes autism?

Although autism was first identified in 1943, its cause remains unknown. Researchers believe there is a strong genetic component with a range of possible external or environmental triggers. Whatever the cause, it is clear that children with autism are born with the disorder or the potential to develop it. Autism is not caused by bad parenting, and children with autism are not unruly kids who choose to misbehave.

How is autism treated?

There is no cure for autism. But evidence shows that early intervention results in positive outcomes for children with autism, and the earlier the better. Studies show that those with autism respond well to a highly-structured, specialized education program tailored to their needs. Some may need one-on-one or small group support; while others may succeed in an inclusive program with supports. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, no one method alone is effective in treating the disorder. Other treatments that may help reduce symptoms include prescription medications and occupational, speech and sensory therapies. Some families have also anecdotally reported benefits from vitamins and special diets.

Source: Autism Society of America

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