What is autism?
The symptom range is broad. Some children are only mildly impaired and may grow up to be self-sufficient. Other children are more severely disabled and may require a lifetime of care.
- Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
- Early presentation of symptoms (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,
- Significant impairment in social or occupational skills.
Many leading organizations in child development, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, advise autism screening for all toddlers (18 and 24 months of age). But with continually improving methods of diagnosis, experts are recommending even earlier screening when an infant may be at high risk for autism, such as when the older siblings have already been diagnosed with ASD.
Early diagnosis and intervention is important. Early intervention has been shown to reduce the effects of autism. When treatment is started early, during the time of hyper brain development (between ages 0 and 3), a child can experience significant progress and improvements before they begin kindergarten.
What causes autism?
Regarding genetic influences: Identical twins often share an ASD condition, and siblings generally have a 35-fold greater risk of developing the disorder.
As for ASD environmental influences, researchers are finding links between ASD and certain family medical conditions, the age of the parents, exposure to toxins, and birth or pregnancy complications.
- The Autism Society of America (ASA). The ASA has chapters throughout the country and provides info on symptoms and treatments.
- NIH’s A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder intended to help parents understand ASD, recognize signs and symptoms, and find resources.
- Autism Speaks, one of the world's leading autism science and advocacy organizations, funds research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and a cure for autism. their website provides a wealth of information and resources for parents of children with ASD.