Autism is a developmental disability that impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.
Signs of autism typically include the following:
- Difficulty communicating, both verbally and non-verbally
- Difficulty making and maintaining eye contact
- Short attention span
- Limited social skills – autistic people tend to engage in exclusive activities
- Routines or repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively repeating words or body movements, or arranging objects in a very specific way
One person with autism may display completely different symptoms from another. As a result, doctors think of autism as a “spectrum disorder,” or a group of disorders with similar features. A person with mild symptoms is at one end of the spectrum, while a person with severe symptoms is on the other. Autism is often called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
ASD includes the following conditions:
- Autistic disorder
Sometimes called “classic autism.” Most signs of autism occur in children in the first 18 to 24 months.
- Asperger’s syndrome
A form of autism where the child has fewer developmental delays. Often, people with Asperger’s syndrome can communicate with great skill. Their repetitious behaviors may be more subtle. When they are younger, because they are so able, they are usually seen as simply “bratty” rather than having a diagnosable disorder. Because of this, people with Asperger’s syndrome are often not diagnosed until they are between 4 and 8 years old.
- Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD)
A child develops normally until early childhood (the first 2-4 years) and then begins to show tic features. CDD is very rare.
- Rett syndrome
A neurological development disorder that affects only females. Noticeable symptoms occur between ages 1 and 4. Symptoms include loss of muscle tone and the ability to use their hands or speak.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS) or atypical autism
A condition where a child shares many of the characteristics of autism, but not all. This is a “catch-all” diagnosis, where a child is, in the diagnostician’s view, on the autistic spectrum, but does not meet the written criteria for a more specific diagnosis.
While much is still unknown about autism, in recent years more and more information has been gathered. Here are some of the key facts and findings:
- Autism affects all races, ethnicities, household incomes, lifestyles and levels of education.
- An estimated 1 in 150 children are affected, which means 1.5 million people are believed to have some form of it.
- The Autism Society of America estimates that it is growing at an annual rate of 10-17%. They estimate that as many as four million Americans will have the disorder in the next decade.
- There is no known cause for autism. Research is being conducted on a variety of potential sources, including infectious, metabolic, genetic and environmental factors.
- Brain scans typically show differences in the shape and structure of the brains of autistic children compared to non-autistic children.
- Autism is not fatal. Most autistic children have a normal life expectancy.
- Autism was first identified in 1943.
- Public awareness of autism has increased significantly in the last decade.
- There is hope.