Understanding Autism

By — Helpguide
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

Autism is a complex brain disorder that affects many aspects of child development, including how a kid talks, plays, and interacts. Although the causes of autism are not yet fully understood, experts agree that the earlier autistic children receive treatment for their symptoms, the better. Early intervention makes a huge difference in the outcome of the disorder, so as a parent, it's important to know autism’s warning signs and seek immediate help if you spot them in your child.

Understanding autism

Autism is a disorder that appears in early childhood, causing delays in many basic areas of development such as learning to talk and interact with others. The symptoms of autism vary widely, as does the impact of the disorder: some autistic children have only mild impairments, while others have more obstacles to overcome. But although the specific combination of symptoms and the severity of the disorder differ from person to person, kids with autism typically have problems in the following three areas:

  • Social Skills — Impaired social interaction is the hallmark sign of autism. This may appear as an apparent lack of interest in other people and the surrounding environment. Children with autism often appear to be in their own little world. They have trouble engaging in back-and-forth play, sharing emotions, making friends, and understanding what others are thinking and feeling.
  • Communication — Autism also involves problems with verbal and nonverbal communication. Spoken language is usually delayed in autistic children and may even be completely absent. Even when able to speak, children with autism usually have trouble conversing freely and easily. Other common symptoms involve odd or repetitive speech patterns, inappropriate facial expressions and gestures, and language comprehension difficulties.
  • Repetitive behavior — Autistic children often exhibit repetitive or "stereotyped" behaviors and narrow, restricted interests. This may show up as an extreme resistance to change, obsessive attachments to unusual objects, or inflexible routines and schedules. Repetitive body movements, or self-stimulatory behaviors, such as hand flapping and rocking are also common.

There is some debate over how many people have autism and whether or not the disorder is becoming more prevalent. While more children are being diagnosed with autism than in the past, many experts believe that at least some of the increase can be explained by heightened public awareness of the disorder, as well as broader and more accurate diagnostic criteria that is catching milder cases.

On the other hand, the latest research indicates that—at the very least—autism is more common in the U.S. than previously thought. According to a February 2007 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 150 children has autism.

While autism occurs with equal frequency across all races, ethnicities, and social classes, boys are three to four times more likely to have autism than girls. The siblings of those with the disorder are also at a higher risk.

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