What Is Autism?
Autism, also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complicated condition that includes problems with communication and behavior. It can involve a wide range of symptoms and skills. ASD can be a minor problem or a disability that needs full-time care in a special facility.
People with autism have trouble with communication. They have trouble understanding what other people think and feel. This makes it hard for them to express themselves, either with words or through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.
People with autism might have problems with learning. Their skills might develop unevenly. For example, they could have trouble communicating but be unusually good at art, music, math, or memory. Because of this, they might do especially well on tests of analysis or problem-solving.
More children are diagnosed with autism now than ever before. But the latest numbers could be higher because of changes in how it’s diagnosed, not because more children have a disorder.
What Are the Signs of Autism?
Symptoms of autism usually appear before a child turns 3. Some people show signs from birth.
Common symptoms of autism include:
A lack of eye contact
A narrow range of interests or intense interest in certain topics
Doing something over and over, like repeating words or phrases, rocking back and forth, or flipping a lever
High sensitivity to sounds, touches, smells, or sights that seem ordinary to other people
Not looking at or listening to other people
Not looking at things when another person points at them
Not wanting to be held or cuddled
Problems understanding or using speech, gestures, facial expressions, or tone of voice
Talking in a sing-song, flat, or robotic voice
Trouble adapting to changes in routine
Some children with autism may also have seizures. These might not start until adolescence.
What Are the Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders?
These types were once thought to be separate conditions. Now, they fall under the range of autism spectrum disorders including:
Asperger's syndrome. These children don't have a problem with language; in fact, they tend to score in the average or above-average range on intelligence tests. But they have social problems and a narrow scope of interests.
Autistic disorder. This is what most people think of when they hear the word "autism." It refers to problems with social interactions, communication, and play in children younger than 3 years.
Childhood disintegrative disorder. These children have typical development for at least 2 years and then lose some or most of their communication and social skills.
Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD or atypical autism). Your doctor might use this term if your child has some autistic behavior, like delays in social and communications skills, but doesn’t fit into another category.
What Causes Autism?
Exactly why autism happens isn't clear. It could stem from problems in parts of your brain that interpret sensory input and process language.
Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. It can happen in people of any race, ethnicity, or social background. Family income, lifestyle, or educational level doesn’t affect a child’s risk of autism. But there are some risk factors:
Autism runs in families, so certain combinations of genes may increase a child’s risk.
A child with an older parent has a higher risk of autism.
Pregnant women who are exposed to certain drugs or chemicals, like alcohol or anti-seizure medications, are more likely to have autistic children. Other risk factors include maternal metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. Research has also linked autism to untreated phenylketonuria (also called PKU, a metabolic disorder caused by the official website absence of an enzyme) and rubella (German measles).