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AUTISM

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. The exact causes of these abnormalities remain unknown. Autism affects boys more often than girls.
An autism diagnosis involves deficits in three areas:

1. social interactions
2. language and communication
3. restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior and interests

Symptoms

Most parents of autistic children suspect that something is wrong by the time the child is 18 months old and seek help by the time the child is age 2.

Some children with autism appear normal before age 1 or 2 and then suddenly "regress" and lose language or social skills they had previously gained. This is called the regressive type of autism.

Communication problems may include:
• Cannot start or maintain a social conversation
• Communicates with gestures instead of words
• Develops language slowly or not at all
• Does not refer to self correctly (for example, says "you want water" when the child means "I want water")
• Does not point to direct others' attention to objects (occurs in the first 14 months of life)
• Repeats words or memorized passages, such as commercials

Social interaction:
• Does not make friends
• Does not play interactive games
• May not respond to eye contact or smiles, or may avoid eye contact
• May treat others as if they are objects
• Prefers to spend time alone, rather than with others

Response to sensory information:
• Does not startle at loud noises
• Has heightened or low senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste
• May find normal noises painful and hold hands over ears
• Rubs surfaces, mouths or licks objects
• Seems to have a heightened or low response to pain

Play:
• Doesn't imitate the actions of others
• Prefers solitary or ritualistic play
• Shows little pretend or imaginative play

Signs and tests
All children should have routine developmental exams done by their pediatrician.: These children might receive a hearing evaluation, blood lead test, and screening test for autism (such as the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers [CHAT] or the Autism Screening Questionnaire).
There is no biological test for autism.

Treatment
An early, intensive, appropriate treatment program will greatly improve the young children with autism. Most programs will build on the interests of the child in a highly structured schedule of constructive activities. .

Treatment is most successful when it is geared toward the child's particular needs. An experienced specialist or team should design the program for the individual child. A variety of therapies are available, including:
• Applied behavior analysis (ABA)
• Medications
• Occupational therapy
• Physical therapy
• Speech-language therapy
• Sensory integration therapy
• Diet
• Supplements

 

The best treatment plan may use a combination of techniques.

 

Prognosis

Today, with the right therapy, many of the symptoms of autism can be improved. The outlook depends on the severity of the autism and the level of therapy the person receives.