Autism is a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood — usually before age 3. Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and cognitive function. While all autism disorders affect these communication and interaction abilities, the symptoms and severity varies greatly from one child to another.
Persons with autism may also suffer from physical problems such as asthma, epilepsy, digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, feeding disorders and sleep disorders.
Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. Its ocurrence has climbed to one in 110 children across the United States. The number of children diagnosed with autism has been increasing but it is not clear whether this is due to better detection and reporting of autism or a real increase in the number of cases. While there is no cure for autism, early identification and appropriate treatment is key to improving the outcome for these children.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a whole range of complicated neurodevelopmental disorders, all of which involve impaired social interaction, communication difficulty, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form. Other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, Rett’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).
Read more about autism
Signs and Symptoms of Autism
Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development — social interaction, communication and behavior. But autism symptoms vary greatly and two children with the same diagnosis may behave quite differently. In most cases, severe autism is marked by a complete inability to communicate and interact with other people.
The onset of symptoms, regardless of the age of diagnosis, is prior to 3 years of age. Some children show signs of autism in early infancy. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life but then suddenly become withdrawn, become aggressive or lose language skills they’ve already acquired.
Read more about autism diagnosis
How is Autism Treated?
There is no cure for autism but there are treatment options. Each person with autism is different and treatment plans need to be made specifically for each individual. Treatment should begin as early as possible. Occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language therapy may help children with needs in these areas.
Educational / Behavioral Interventions
Therapists use structured skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills. One intervention of this type is Applied Behavioral Analysis. Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with autism can help families cope with the challenges of living with an autistic child.
Read more about autism treatment