What Is Autism?

| December 7, 2018 | 0 Comments

There is no one type of autism, but many.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.*

We now know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, and each person with autism can have unique strengths and challenges.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors influence the development of autism, and autism often is accompanied by medical issues such as:

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
  • Seizures
  • Sleep disturbances

Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children.

Many people with autism also have sensory issues. These can include aversions to certain sights, sounds and other sensations.

Autism’s hallmark signs usually appear by age 2 to 3. Often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier.

* In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four distinct autism diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome

Early intervention can change a life.

Research has made clear that high quality early intervention can improve learning, communication and social skills, as well as underlying brain development.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.

What are the signs of autism?

The timing and severity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months. In others, symptoms become obvious as late as age 2 or 3.

Not all children with autism show all the signs. Many children who don’t have autism show a few. That’s why professional evaluation is crucial.

The following “red flags” may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, please don’t delay in asking your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation:

By 6 months

  • Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful and engaging expressions.
  • Limited or no eye contact.

By 9 months

  • Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions

By 12 months

  • Little or no babbling
  • Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving
  • Little or no response to name.

By 16 months

  • Very few or no words.

By 24 months

  • Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating)

At any age

  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

If you have concerns, get your child screened and contact your healthcare provider.

The M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) can help you determine if a professional should evaluate your child. This simple online autism screen, available on our website, takes only a few minutes. If the answers suggest your child is at risk for autism, please consult with your child’s doctor. Likewise, if you have any other concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait. Speak to your doctor now about screening your child for autism.

Resources

Though autism spectrum disorders range from mildly to profoundly disabling, a diagnosis of ASD is an important turning point in a long journey. Autism Speaks has many resources for families whose children have recently received a diagnosis.

These include Autism Speaks First Concern to Action Tool Kit and First Concern to Action Roadmap.

Are you an adult or teen?

Do you suspect that your feelings and behaviors involve autism? Many people who have milder forms of autism go undiagnosed until adulthood. Find out more in our guide: “Is it Autism and If So, What Next?”

Please visit Treatment of Autism and our Directory for more information. Have more questions? Autism Speaks’ Autism Response Team can help you with information, resources and opportunities. Call us at 888-288-4762 (en Español 888-772-9050) or email familyservices@autismspeaks.org.

Filed Under: Chronic Disease

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