What is autistic disorder?
Autistic disorder (also called autism; more recently described as "mindblindedness") is a neurological and developmental disorder that usually appears during the first three years of life. A child with autism appears to live in his/her own world, showing little interest in others, and a lack of social awareness. The focus of an autistic child is a consistent routine and includes an interest in repeating odd and peculiar behaviors. Autistic children often have problems in communication, avoid eye contact, and show limited attachment to others.
Autism can prevent a child from forming relationships with others (in part, due to an inability to interpret facial expressions or emotions). A child with autism may resist cuddling, play alone, and be resistant to change, and/or have delayed speech development. Persons with autism tend to exhibit repeated body movements (such as flapping hands or rocking) and have unusual attachments to objects. However, many persons with autism excel consistently on certain mental tasks (i.e., counting, measuring, art, music, memory).
What causes autism?
The cause of autism is not known. Research suggests that autism is a genetic condition. It is believed that several genes are involved in the development of autism. Research studies in autism have found a variety of abnormalities in the brain structure and chemicals in the brain, however, there have been no consistent findings. One theory is the possibility that autistic disorder is a behavioral syndrome that includes several distinct conditions. However, parenting behaviors are not the cause or a contributing factor to the cause or causes of autism.
Who is affected by autism?
Approximately 3 to 6 out of every 10,000 children born are diagnosed with autism. Autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, with four times as many boys affected than girls.
What are the symptoms of autism?
The following are the most common symptoms of autism. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- does not socially interact well with others, including parents
- shows a lack of interest in, or rejection of physical contact. Parents describe autistic infants as "unaffectionate." Autistic infants and children are not comforted by physical contact.
- avoids making eye contact with others, including parents
- fails to develop friends or interact with other children
- does not communicate well with others
- is delayed or does not develop language
- once language is developed, does not use language to communicate with others
- has echolalia (repeats words or phrases repeatedly, like an echo)
- demonstrates repetitive behaviors
- has repetitive motor movements (such as rocking and hand or finger flapping)
- is preoccupied, usually with lights, moving objects, or parts of objects
- does not like noise
- has rituals
- requires routines
The symptoms of autism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
How is autism diagnosed?
For the first time, standard guidelines have been developed to help identify autism in children before the age of 24 months. In the past, diagnosis of autism was often not made until late preschool-age or later. The new guidelines can help identify children with autism early, which means earlier, more effective treatment for the disorder.
The standardized guidelines were developed with assistance from 11 different organizations and were published in Neurology, a journal of the American Academy of Neurology. According to the guidelines, all children before the age of 24 months should routinely be screened for autism and other developmental delays at their well-child check-ups. Children that show developmental delays and other behavior disorders should be further tested for autism. According to the guidelines, less than 30 percent of children undergo age-appropriate screening at their well-child check-ups.
By screening children early for autism, those diagnosed with the disorder can be treated immediately and aggressively.