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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in 44 children in the U.S. has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Autism is a general term that describes a group of complex neuro-developmental disorders. They are characterized by challenges with:
Other difficulties often accompany autism. Medical issues, delays in developmental milestones, uncommon eating and sleeping habits, anxiety and out-of-the-ordinary sensory perceptions.
A very short time ago, the answer was “we have no idea.” Today, new research is revealing some answers.
We now know there is no one cause of autism – just as there is no one type of autism. While there has been concerns that some vaccines may contribute to autism, the CDC concludes there is no relationship between the two.
Trouble connecting with others is one of the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder. Even those who do speak often struggle to understand others and make themselves understood.
Although autism appears to be tied to very early brain development, most signs and symptoms tend to emerge between two and three years of age. Parents are often the first to notice that their child is showing unusual behaviors. Failing to make eye contact, not responding to his or her name, or playing with toys in unusual and repetitive ways are all warning signs.
Autism spectrum disorder can also be diagnosed later in life as learning, social and emotional difficulties emerge.
Parents of infants and toddlers should stay alert for language delays. If diagnosed, techniques used in autism therapy can help at home. It’s important to remember that each case is different. The best way to learn about your child’s unique needs is to participate in his or her treatment. Ask your child’s therapists questions and listen to their advice.
There is currently no cure for ASD. Doctors and researchers are still working to find out which treatments work best for each child. In the meantime, early intervention can make school and life easier for most kids with autism. It’s essential to talk with your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child may have ASD or other developmental problems. Some children can benefit from behavioral therapy and medications.
Look for a qualified developmental pediatrician, child neurologist, child psychologist or psychiatrist to guide your child’s treatment. Check with your specialist before trying any alternative therapy, special diet or supplements.
Autism often goes hand in hand with other health issues. Many children can’t sleep well, have seizures or digestive troubles. Others develop anxiety, depression or other psychological conditions.
Your child’s doctor should treat these conditions, too. Consider adding a specialist in another field to the treatment team, if needed. For instance, a gastroenterologist may be able to help with stomach issues.
Do you have a child with autism? Share your advice or questions in the comments below.
Originally published April 27, 2015; Revised 2019, 2021, 2022
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