What is Autism?
Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means there’s a wide range of lifelong symptoms that vary in form and severity, but it is generally characterized by an impairment in social interaction and communication, and the presence of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
Symptoms first appear in early childhood, with studies showing that parents on average notice developmental problems before their child’s first birthday. According to the latest CDC findings, 1 in 44 children in the U.S. were diagnosed with autism by age 8, and males are 4.2 times more likely than females to receive the diagnosis.
Causes of Autism
There is a strong genetic component to autism. For example, almost 20% of younger siblings of a child with autism will receive a diagnosis themselves, which is much higher than the CDC-reported 1% to 2% risk among the general population.
Researchers continue trying to determine both the genetic and non-genetic environmental factors that contribute to autism — about 15% of children with autism have been identified as having a genetic disorder, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Down syndrome, or other chromosomal abnormalities, copy number variants, and single gene mutations. It is expected that as genetic testing becomes more sensitive, the percentage of individuals with a genetic cause will increase, however, non-genetic factors (such as exposure to a maternal immune response in the womb or complications during birth) have also been found to play a role
There is no medical test, such as a blood test or brain scan, to diagnose autism. Instead, a developmental or general pediatrician, neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other specialists, will look at a child’s behavior and development to determine both the diagnosis and its severity. The standard reference used to diagnose mental and behavioral conditions—including autism—is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). There are also cases where a child does not meet the diagnostic criteria for autism but will have autistic-like features.
Early intervention services are important for children from birth to 3 years old and include therapy to help the child interact with others. A parent suspecting autism or other developmental problems needs to work with their child’s doctor as soon as possible.
Treatments beyond early intervention fall into the categories of behavior and communication, dietary, medication, and complementary medicine, which may include:
- Auditory training.
- Discrete trial training.
- Vitamin therapy.
- Anti-yeast therapy.
- Facilitated communication.
- Music therapy.
- Occupational therapy.
- Physical therapy.
- Sensory integration.