What is autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that causes problems with social skills and communication. Autism can be mild or severe. It is different for every person. Autism is also known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD. Autism is three to four times more common in boys than girls.
What causes autism?
Most cases of autism appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development.
What are some signs or symptoms of autism?
Children with autism may have problems with communication, social skills, and reacting to the world around them. Not all behaviors will exist in every child. Parents are often the first to notice that their child is showing unusual behaviors such as failing to make eye contact, not responding to their name, or playing with objects and toys in unusual or repetitive ways. Unfortunately some professionals unfamiliar with autism may dismiss early indicators which further delays the diagnosis and opportunity for early intervention therapies. Possible signs and symptoms are outlined below.
Early indicators during infancy include:
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months or thereafter
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months or thereafter
- No babbling by 12 months
- No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing reaching, or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of babbling, speech or social skills at any age
Source: Autism Speaks’
In young children, possible signs of an autism include:
- Not speaking or very limited speech
- Loss of words the child was previously able to say
- Difficulty expressing basic wants and needs
- Poor vocabulary development
- Problems following directions or finding objects that are named
- Repeating what is said (echolalia)
- Problems answering questions
- Speech that sounds different (e.g., “robotic” speech or speech that is high-pitched)
- Poor eye contact with people or objects
- Poor play skills (pretend or social play)
- Being overly focused on a topic or objects that interest them
- Problems making friends
- Crying, becoming angry, giggling, or laughing for no known reason or at the wrong time
- Disliking being touched or held
- Rocking, hand flapping or other movements (self-stimulating movements)
- Not paying attention to things the child sees or hears
- Problems dealing with changes in routine
- Using objects in unusual ways
- Unusual attachments to objects
- No fear of real dangers
- Being either very sensitive or not sensitive enough to touch, light, or sounds (e.g., disliking loud sounds or only responding when sounds are very loud; also called a sensory integration disorder)
- Feeding difficulties (accepting only select foods, refusing certain food textures)
- Sleep problems
Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
How is autism diagnosed?
There is no single medical test for autism. It is important to have your child evaluated by a multidisciplinary team of professionals who know about autism. The team might include developmental pediatricians, psychologists, neurologists, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other developmental specialists. Speech language pathologists play a key role because problems with social skills and communication are often the first symptoms of autism.
What treatments are available for people with autism?
There is no known cure for autism. In some cases, medications and dietary restrictions may help control symptoms. Intervention should begin when the child is young. Early intervention and preschool programs are very important. An evaluation by a speech language pathologist should be completed to determine social skill and communication needs. An appropriate treatment plan that meets the needs of the child and family can then be established. Treatment may include any combination of traditional speech and language approaches, augmentative and alternative communication, and behavioral interventions. It is also important to have the child’s hearing evaluated to rule out hearing loss.