Autism is a serious developmental disorder that appears in early childhood, generally by or before the age of three. Regardless the severity of the symptoms, autism affects a child’s ability to interact with others and communicate effectively. An estimated 3-6 out of every 1000 children have been diagnosed with autism and the numbers are rising. Though no specific cause or cure has been found for autism, researchers have been able to develop a number of theories to aid in early detection and treatment.
Early warning signs of autism are categorized by issues with social skills, language and behavior. Children with autism generally have problems in all three areas. In the most severe cases, autism affects one’s ability to interact with people or communicate all together.
- Social Skills
- Poor eye contact
- Appears to be unaware to other’s feelings, lack of empathy
- Prefers to play alone rather than with other children
- Failure to respond to facial expressions and body language of others
- Delay in or lack of learning to talk
- Repetitive use of words or phrases
- Loses previously acquired ability to use words or sentences
- Difficulty starting a conversation or keeping one going
- Repetitive movements
- Constantly moving, very active (similar to symptoms of ADHD)
- Develops their own routines, is disturbed when routines change
- May be oblivious to pain but sensitive to light, sound and touch
- Preoccupation with certain topics
Though there is no single, specific cause linked to autism, there are a number of probable causes researchers have determined. Genetics is the first and most common cause linked to this disorder. There are number of genes that make a child more susceptible to the disorder as well as others that affect the way the brain develops which may determine the severity of the symptoms. The many genes that can potentially cause autism alone wouldn’t exhibit your typical autistic symptoms but when clumped together, the symptoms clearly point to autism. There are also a number of environmental factors that have been connected to autism such as air pollution and viral infections. Other possible causes involve complications in delivery, damage to parts of the brain and poor functioning of the immune system.
Behavioral and physical assessments are used to determine if a child has autism as well as to determine the severity of the symptoms. The American Association of Childhood and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has developed a set of guidelines doctors use to test behavioral development in children. Along with a number of behavioral questionnaires, clinical observations and developmental and intelligence tests, the behavioral aspect of diagnosis has become much easier in recent years. Physical assessments for autism are very similar to testing for Asperger’s syndrome and include regular physicals, hearing tests and test for lead poisoning.
Like Asperger’s, there are no medications that can treat the core symptoms of autism. Antidepressants can be prescribed for anxiety and depression which are common disorders that accompany autism. Behavioral therapy is a form of treatment that focuses on developing language, communication and social skills that are lacking in these children. They teach how to act in certain situations and though children don’t outgrow autism, they are taught how to deal with their disorder as they grow. Educational therapy is another form of treatment in which children are taught these skills in a highly structured environment, a situation that these children thrive in.