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Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

Autism spectrum disorders affect a person's ability to communicate and interact with others and behave appropriately in social situations. Approximately 1 in 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Autism spectrum disorders are divided into three categories: autistic disorder, Asperger's Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder- not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

Autistic disorder is characterized by language delays, problems with communication and unusual behavior. Intellectual disabilities are common in people with autistic disorder.

autism
Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders that make communication and social interactions difficult.
Credit: Zurijeta | Shutterstock

Asperger Syndrome is a mild form of autistic disorder. People with Asperger's, have problems with social interaction and unusual behavior, however, they don't usually have impaired language skills or intellectual disabilities, according to the CDC.

People with PDD-NOS may meet some criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger Syndrome, but their symptoms are fewer and milder. They may only have trouble with social interaction, the CDC said.

Despite controversy around the subject, there is no evidence that links vaccination of a child with the development of autism, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of people with autism spectrum disorders are poor social skills, problems with language and strange behavior. However, no two people with autism are alike, and symptoms can vary, according to the Mayo Clinic.

People with autism may not respond to their name or make eye contact, they may have an aversion to cuddling or holding, and they may seem unaware of hurting others' feelings, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Language difficulties include talking later than age 2, loss of ability to say words or sentences, inability to make eye contact when asking for something, robot-like speech, inability to keep a conversation going and repeating words verbatim without understanding how to use them.

Behavioral oddities may include repetitive movement, specific routines and disturbance by changes to the routines, constant movement, sensory processing issues and fascination by parts of an object, according to the Mayo Clinic.

 

Diagnosis

The only way to diagnose an autism spectrum disorder is through behavioral observation and testing. An infant may begin showing signs of autism by 18 months or younger, but a reliable diagnosis is usually made around age 2 or 3, according to the CDC.

It's also possible for children to appear to be developing normally for the first few months or years of life, and then suddenly lose their language skills and become aggressive or withdrawn, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Those most at risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder are boys, siblings of people with autism and people who have other developmental disorders, such as Fragile X syndrome, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Treatments

Experts agree that early diagnosis – and therefore intervention – is helpful in improving development in a child with autism. Early intervention therapies may include helping the child learn to walk, talk and interact with others, according to the CDC.

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorders. However, there are behavioral and educational therapies to reduce symptoms.

"Some programs focus on reducing problem behaviors and teaching new skills," according to the Mayo Clinic, whereas "other programs focus on teaching children how to act in social situations or how to communicate better with other people."

Some therapy programs include occupational therapy, speech therapy and sensory integration therapy.

Medications are also available to help control symptoms of autism. Antidepressants can treat anxiety and antipsychotic medications can treat behavioral problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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