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What is autism
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.
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Symptoms of Autism
Some children show signs of autism spectrum disorder in early infancy, such as reduced eye contact, lack of response to their name or indifference to caregivers. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life, but then suddenly become withdrawn or aggressive or lose language skills they’ve already acquired. Signs usually are seen by age 2 years.
Each child with autism spectrum disorder is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior and level of severity — from low functioning to high functioning.
Some children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty learning, and some have signs of lower than normal intelligence. Other children with the disorder have normal to high intelligence — they learn quickly, yet have trouble communicating and applying what they know in everyday life and adjusting to social situations.
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Causes of autism
Autism spectrum disorder has no single known cause. Given the complexity of the disorder, and the fact that symptoms and severity vary, there are probably many causes. Both genetics and environment may play a role.
Genetics. Several different genes appear to be involved in autism spectrum disorder. For some children, autism spectrum disorder can be associated with a genetic disorder, such as Rett syndrome or fragile X syndrome. For other children, genetic changes (mutations) may increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder.
Environmental factors. Researchers are currently exploring whether factors such as viral infections, medications or complications during pregnancy, or air pollutants play a role in triggering autism spectrum disorder.
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Risk factors of autism
Autism spectrum disorder affects children of all races and nationalities, but certain factors increase a child’s risk. These may include:
Your child’s sex. Boys are about four times more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder than girls are.
Family history. Families who have one child with autism spectrum disorder have an increased risk of having another child with the disorder.
Other disorders. Children with certain medical conditions have a higher than normal risk of autism spectrum disorder or autism-like symptoms. Examples include fragile X syndrome, an inherited disorder that causes intellectual problems.
Extremely preterm babies. Babies born before 26 weeks of gestation may have a greater risk of autism spectrum disorder.
Parents’ ages. There may be a connection between children born to older parents and autism spectrum disorder, but more research is necessary to establish this link.
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Autism Complications and Prevention
Problems with social interactions, communication and behavior can lead to:
Problems in school and with successful learning
Inability to live independently
Stress within the family
Victimization and being bullied
There’s no way to prevent autism spectrum disorder, but there are treatment options. Early diagnosis and intervention is most helpful and can improve behavior, skills and language development. However, intervention is helpful at any age. Though children usually don’t outgrow autism spectrum disorder symptoms, they may learn to function well.
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Facts about autism I
1. Autism spectrum disorder now affects 1 in 68 children. Boys are nearly 5 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD.
2. Autism spectrum disorder is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States. ASD is more common than childhood cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
3. The term stems from the Greek word autos meaning “self”, autism literally means “alone”.
4. In the late 1990s, the diagnostic title changed to reflect a more politically correct social environment. Now the proper expression is “people with autism or autism spectrum disorder”.
5. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3.
5. The earlier autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better. Outcomes for children’s lives are significantly improved with early diagnosis and treatment.
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Facts about autism II
1. Hyperlexia, the ability to read above one’s age or grade level in school, commonly accompanies autism spectrum disorder.
2. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder may be very creative and find a passion and talent for music, theater, art, dance and singing quite easily.
3. It is widely speculated that Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Andy Warhol and Bill Gates are on the autism spectrum.
4. Many people with autism spectrum disorder are successfully living and working and contributing to the well being of others in their local communities. This is most likely to happen when appropriate services are delivered during the child’s educational years.
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