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Autism is a term used for a number of developmental disabilities called Autism Spectrum Disorders — or ASD. ASD emerges in the first three years of a child’s life, and can affect the child’s ability to communicate, understand language, and to develop social relationships.The symptoms of ASD vary, and can range from mild to severe, but all children on the spectrum show difficulties with:
Though some people refer to all ASDs simply as "autism," doctors usually diagnose patients with a specific classification from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR).Here are the five subcategories of diagnoses:
Each subcategory has its own set of criteria, but they all fall under the heading of PDD, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
No two children with ASD are alike. Some may never develop language, and can have other problems, such as mental retardation or seizure disorder. A child on the mild end of the spectrum may be able to function in a regular classroom and with intervention may overcome many of the challenges associated with the disability to the point where he is no longer identified as having an ASD.
Children on the autism spectrum may avoid eye contact, ignore others, speak little, or lose language or social skills they once had. They may exhibit self-stimulatory behavior for example flapping their hands repetitively or they may focus on one activity with little interest in anything else, for example fixating on the wheels of a toy car for hours.
This year, one out of every 88 babies born in the United States will be diagnosed with autism.* It’s more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls.
There is no medical test for ASD. A diagnosis is made by observing the presence or absence of specific age-related behaviors and skills. (For instance, does a 3 year-old child communicate using short phrases like “want more juice” or is she uncommunicative? Does she like playing with friends or does she prefer to play alone?) ASD is usually recognizable by the time a child is 3, and can sometimes be detected in a child as young as 12 months. See Early Signs for a full list of possible early indicators of ASD.
Parents are often the first to notice something is “different” about their child and may worry their child is not reaching developmental milestones. Maybe their infant doesn’t cry when they leave the room, or is overly anxious around strangers. Some babies seem to develop typically at first, then, around 12 to 36 months, suddenly lose the ability to speak or point, or otherwise show drastic changes in behavior.
It’s crucial that parents speak to their pediatrician right away if they suspect developmental delays. The earlier a child is diagnosed with an ASD, the greater the chance that he or she can be helped through treatment.
There is no known single cause for ASD, but significant strides have been made in its understanding and treatment in recent years. Intensive early intervention can significantly reduce the impact of autism, and can dramatically help children to learn, grow, and enjoy happy, fulfilling lives.
* Centers for Disease Control (2012) - for complete report, visit: CDC
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