What is Autism Disorder?


Autism is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).   Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.

Other ASDs include Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).  Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism.  Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.

Symptoms of Autism?

The main signs and symptoms of autism involve problems in the following areas:

•    Communication – both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken, such as pointing, eye contact, and smiling)
•    Social – such as sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation
•    Routines or repetitive behaviors (also called stereotyped behaviors) – such as repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines or schedules and playing in repetitive ways

The symptoms of autism can usually be observed by 18 months of age. 

There are many possible red flags for autism – behaviors that may be signs or symptoms of autism.  Some features may mean a delay in one or more areas of development, while others may be more typical of autism spectrum disorders.  If you think your child shows red flags for autism, talk to your health care provider.

Causes

The cause of autism is not known. Research suggests that autism is a genetic condition. It is believed that several genes are involved in the development of autism. Research studies in autism have found a variety of abnormalities in the brain structure and chemicals in the brain; however, there have been no consistent findings. One theory is the possibility that autistic disorder is a behavioral syndrome that includes several distinct conditions. However, parenting behaviors are not the cause or a contributing factor to the cause or causes of autism.

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