Autism is a condition related to impairment of development that manifests as problems with social skills and communication. Autism can also be characterized by repetitive behaviors. A child with autism does not look any different than a typical child. Their ability to learn, think, and problem solve varies from person to person and some autistic individuals are extremely intelligent while others have severe issues that require assistance.

According to “The Economist,” in 2016 the rate of autism rose from 4.5:10000 in 1970 to 1:68 in 2016. In boys the rate was even higher, at 1:42. It is not known if this rise is due to an actual rise in the condition or due to changes in research and diagnosis.

Scientists agree that genetics play an important role in the occurrence of autism. When a sibling is autistic, the other siblings are at higher risk of also having autism. Furthermore, children with chromosomal abnormalities, such as Fragile X Syndrome or children born to women who receive valproic acid or thalidomide during pregnancy are also at higher risk of developing autism. Research supports that autism can occur before, during, and after birth. Babies born to older parents are also at higher risk of being autistic.

Autistic Behaviors
An autistic person struggles with social skills, regulating emotions, and communication. They may display repetitive behaviors. Their learning ability, concentration, and reaction to things vary from person to person. An autistic child usually displays symptoms when they are very young and will continue to exhibit symptoms throughout their lives, though they may improve over time.

An autistic child or adult may exhibit the following symptoms:
  • Does not point to objects and does not invite participation.
  • Does not visually follow when someone points something out.
  • Has difficulty forming relationships or is not interested in other people at all.
  • Avoids eye contact; prefers to be alone.
  • Unable to understand other people’s feelings or express their own.
  • Does not like to be touched or hugged, unless they initiate contact.
  • Does not respond when spoken to.
  • Pays more attention to other noises than people talking.
  • Interested in people, but unable to interact with them.
  • Repeats what they hear or repeats a word, phrase, or sentence rather than coming up with their own words.
  • Unable to “pretend play,” such as feeding a doll or simple roleplay appropriate for their age.
  • Repetitive or obsessive behavior.
  • Has a difficult time with change.
  • Sensitive to smell, taste, sound, and touch.
  • Loses certain abilities, such as being able to speak and then suddenly stopped.
Diagnosis is done by observing behaviors and development, but autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or other medical exams. Sometimes behaviors become apparent as early as 18 months of age and usually by two years old, an experienced professional can accurately diagnose autism.

However, most children are diagnosed much older. Children with autism need to be treated earlier than they are now.
Autism cannot be cured, but early intervention can help support normal development. Intervention can start as early as one year old, with a focus on all-around development, such as forming appropriate relationships and communication. Parents who suspect that their child has autism or other development issues should contact a medical professional as soon as possible, such as a development and behavior pediatrician or a child psychologist/psychiatrist.

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