Autism is a developmental problem that appears early in childhood. It affects a child’s social interaction, language and behavior. This makes it difficult for an autistic child to communicate and interact with others.
Up to 6 out of 1,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism, and the numbers seem to be rising. This fact could be because of an actual increase in the incidence of autism, or perhaps it’s just a reflection of better detection and reporting of the condition.
Diagnosis is difficult. Although the signs of autism may show up by 18 months of age, the diagnosis may not be reached until the age of 2 or 3. Early diagnosis is associated with a better chance of improvement.
Common symptoms of autism:
- Social skills: A child may not respond to his or her name, has poor eye contact, appears not to hear you and retreats into his or her own world.
- Language: Starts talking later than other children, no eye contact when speaking, can’t start a conversation or keep one going, and loses the previously learned ability to say words or phrases.
- Behavior: Performs repetitive movements, develops strict routines and rituals, moves constantly, and is disturbed by the slightest change of routine.
There are many possible causes of autism, including:
- Genetics: Some genes are inherited, and some can change after birth.
- Environmental factors: Environmental pollutants and viral infections may play a role in triggering autism.
- Other causes: Problems during labor and delivery during birth and possible effects of the immune system may cause autism.
When it comes to immunizations, this is the greatest controversy concerning autism and a major reason why parents choose not to have their children routinely immunized. After much extensive study, to date, no link has been found between immunizations and autism.
Risk factors include:
- Child’s sex: Autism is three or four times more common in boys than girls.
- Family history: Families with one autistic child run a higher risk for having a second child with the disorder.
- Paternal age: The older the father, the greater chance of having an autistic child.
Treatment of autism may include:
- Behavior and communication therapy.
- Educational therapy.
- Drug therapy (to help symptoms only).
- Creative therapy such as music and art.
There are also several ways to cope with autism:
- Find a team of professionals who you can trust.
- Learn as much as you can about the disorder.
- Seek out other families with autistic children.
We, as a community, need to be understanding and supportive of families with autistic children. Working with a child who requires extra attention can be exhausting for families. Autistic children can also bring talents beyond expectation.