What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
Signs of Autism
Symptoms almost always start before a child is 3 years old. Usually, parents first notice that their toddler has not started talking yet and is not acting like other children the same age. But it is not unusual for a child with autism to start to talk at the same time as other children the same age, then lose his or her language skills.
Symptoms of autism include:
A delay in learning to talk, or not talking at all. A child may seem to be deaf, even though hearing tests are normal.
Repeated and overused types of behavior, interests, and play. Examples include repeated body rocking, unusual attachments to objects, and getting very upset when routines change.
There is no "typical" person with autism. People can have many different kinds of behaviors, from mild to severe. Parents often say that their child with autism prefers to play alone and does not make eye contact with other people.
Autism may also include other problems:
Many children with autism have below-normal intelligence.
Teenagers with autism often become depressed and have a lot of anxiety, especially if they have average or above-average intelligence.
Some children get a seizure disorder such as epilepsy by their teen years.
How is autism diagnosed?
There are guidelines your doctor will use to see if your child has symptoms of autism. The guidelines put symptoms into categories such as:
- Social interactions and relationships.
For example, a child may have trouble making eye contact. People with autism may have a hard time understanding someone else's feelings, such as pain or sadness.
- Verbal and nonverbal communication.
For example, a child may never speak. Or he or she may often repeat a certain phrase over and over.
- Limited interests in activities or play.
For example, younger children often focus on parts of toys rather than playing with the whole toy. Older children and adults may be fascinated by certain topics, like trading cards or license plates.
Your child may also have a hearing test and some other tests to make sure that problems are not caused by some other condition.