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Autism: Causes, Signs, and Treatment

Updated on October 21, 2012


It is often difficult for us as parents to believe that our precious bundle of joy may have a problem. In some cases, however, early detection is essential in curing or at least minimizing the negative effects of certain ailments. Autism, in particularly, is highly receptive to early detection and the younger your child, the greater the impact of treatment. Watching for warning signs in babies and toddlers is, therefore, vital.

What is Autism?

Autism is a spectrum of closely related disorders that appear in infancy and early childhood. It can cause delays in many basic areas of development such as talking, playing, and interaction with others. The signs and effects of autism vary widely; however, every autistic child has problems to some degree in the following three areas:

· Verbal and non-verbal communication

· Thinking and behaving flexibly

· Relating to others and the world around them

What Causes Autism?

The cause of autism is not known; however, research suggests that it a genetic condition. Several genes are believed to be involved in the development of the autistic disorder. Though there have been no consistent findings, research studies in autism have found a variety of abnormalities in the brain structure and chemicals in the brain.

Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Unlike most childhood disorders, autism involves the absence of normal behavior as oppose to the presence of abnormal behavior. This can make detection challenging as parents must first have some understanding of what is normal at each stage of development. To make matters even more difficult, pediatricians often misinterpret early autistic symptoms as slow yet normal development and advise parents to “wait and see.” On average it can take 2 to 3 years following the recognition of the first symptoms of autism before an official diagnosis is made. If you are worried that your child may suffer from autism, it is important that you not wait for the official diagnosis before seeking treatment. As a general guideline, the following development deficits may indicate cause for concern:

· No eye contact at 3 to 4 months

· No babbling, pointing, or gesturing by age 12 months

· No single words spoken by age 16 months

· No two-word spontaneous phrases by age 24 months

· Loss of any language or social skills at any age

It is important to remember that autism is a wide-spectrum disorder. This means the symptoms will vary in severity from mild to severe. In addition, no two people with the autistic disorder will have exactly the same symptoms.

Treatment for Autism

There is no cure for autism. Specialized behavioral and educational programs are often used to teach social skills, motor skills, and cognitive skills. Autistic children vary greatly in their behavioral needs and individualized treatment planning is important. Highly structured special education programs should focus on developing social skills, speech, language, self-care, and job skills. While some autistic children respond well to the use of medications to treat certain symptoms, intensive behavior therapy and home-based approaches involving parents are considered to produce the best results.

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