Autism is a developmental disorder of the brain. People with autism have problems communicating and interacting socially. They also may have unusual patterns of behavior, interests and activities.
Doctors use the term autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This term includes the five kinds of autism.
The three main types of autism are:
There are also two rare autism disorders:
Signs of autism spectrum disorder are typically first seen before a child's third birthday. However, only half of children with autism are diagnosed before kindergarten.
Rett syndrome appears to be caused by a genetic mutation.
The causes of the other types of autism remain unknown. Various studies suggest that autism may:
Studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.
All types of autism except Rett syndrome are more common in boys than in girls.
At birth, a child with ASD often appears normal.
Symptoms may appear as early as the first year of life. But it may not be until the child is 2 or 3 years old that the parents realize something is not quite right.
Infants with autism spectrum disorder:
Symptoms vary from mild to severe.
Some behaviors associated with autism include:
Any attempt to divert the child can provoke an emotional outburst.
The diagnosis usually is made by specialists, and is based on:
In some cases, tests will be ordered to check for other medical conditions that can look like autism.
ASD is a lifelong condition.
The causes of most types of ASD remain unknown. There is no way to prevent them.
There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder. However, a child's symptoms may improve with intense treatment.
Treatment generally includes education, behavioral management and medications.
Educators develop an individualized education program to address the child's specific problems. This typically includes speech and language therapy, social skills and life-skills training.
The goal of behavioral management is to enhance appropriate behavior and reduce inappropriate behaviors.
Behavior modification strategies include positive reinforcement, "time out" and comprehensive behavioral interventions. Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a teaching approach that reinforces the practice of specific skills.
There is not one drug that treats all symptoms of autism effectively. Medications that may be considered include:
Some people believe that changes in diet, herbal medicines, and other forms of complementary medicine can help autistic children. As of now there isn't enough information to recommend them.
Some of these treatments can be dangerous or have side effects. Talk to your doctor about any treatment you may be considering
Call your doctor if your toddler:
Call your doctor right away if your child tries to injure himself or herself.
The difficult behaviors seen in autistic toddlers tend to improve between ages 6 and 10. Problems may resurface during the teen and young adult years. They eventually calm down again in middle and later life.
Some children with autism are able to live independently. Others may struggle to maintain normal social interactions, communication and behaviors.
Experts believe earlier ASD diagnosis and treatment leads to a better outcome.
Life expectancy depends on whether the person has other conditions and the person's overall health.
Autism Society of America
7910 Woodmont Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814-3067