Autism is a spectrum of complex brain disorders. The disorders result in social, behavioral, and communication problems. Other conditions that are part of this spectrum include Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that problems in brain development cause autism. Scientists are searching for answers about what causes these development problems. Studies suggest:
Factors that increase the risk of developing autism include:
The Conditions Above Primarily Affect the Central Nervous System
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Autism usually first appears during early childhood between 2-6 years old. The severity of symptoms varies. Behaviors and abilities may differ from day to day. Symptoms may decrease as the child grows older. Children with autism may have a combination of abnormal behaviors.
Some people with autism suffer from other disorders as well, including:
Doctors who specialize in autism will observe the child's behavior, social contacts, and communication abilities. They will evaluate mental and social development. Parents will be asked about the child's behavior. Some doctors ask parents to bring in videos of the child at home.
Tests may include:
Medical tests to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms may include:
An electroencephalogram (EEG) may also be done to record brain activity.
There is no cure for autism. The severity of symptoms may decrease over the years. Children with autism and their families may benefit from early intervention. Children aged 18-30 months who had high-intensity intervention showed improvements in their IQ, language, and behavior.
Children with autism respond well to a structured, expected schedule. Many children with autism learn to cope with their disabilities. Most need assistance and support throughout their lives. Others are able to work and live independently when they grow up.
Children with autism can benefit from:
Programs that meet the child's special needs improve the odds of learning. Children with autism may have trouble with assignments, concentration, and anxiety. Teachers who understand the condition can work with the child's abilities. Programs should use the child's interests. Some children do better in a small-group setting. Others do well in regular classrooms with special support. Vocational training can help prepare young adults for a job.
Speech, physical, and occupational therapies may improve speech and activities. Children with autism need help developing social skills. Mental health professionals can help a family cope with caring for a child with autism. Counselors help parents learn how to manage behaviors.
ABA is a type of behavior program. It can be used in school, in a therapy setting, and at home. There are a number of different kinds of ABA programs. Talk to your child's doctor about which one might be helpful for your child.
There are no drugs to treat autism. Some drugs are used to help manage symptoms. Medicines for anxiety and depression can also help treat obsessive and aggressive behaviors. Your child's doctor may use other medicines to help control other disruptive behaviors.
There are other treatments available. These include dietary changes and alternative therapies. Talk with your child's doctor first to see if any of these would be helpful for your child.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Autism Society
Autism Canada Foundation
Autism Society Canada
Autism 101: a free online course. The Autism Society website. Available at: http://support.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_course. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm. Updated May 7, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 6, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html. Updated August 7, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism spectrum disorders (pervasive developmental disorders). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-pervasive-developmental-disorders/index.shtml. Updated May 14, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Dawson G, Rogers S, Munson J, et al. Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the early start Denver model. Pediatrics. 2009 Nov 30.
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10/30/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Ibrahim S, Voigt R, Katusic S, Weaver A, Barbaresi W. Incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autism: a population-based study. Pediatrics. 2009;124(2):680.
12/31/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Rice C. Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders—Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2006. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2009;58(SS10):1.
11/11/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Chaidez V, Hansen RL, et al. Gastrointestinal problems in children with autism, developmental delays, or typical development. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Nov 6.
5/12/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: MacDonald M, Lord C, et al. The relationship of motor skills and social communicative skills in school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder. APAQ. 2013 July. 30, 271-282. Available at: http://journals.humankinetics.com/AcuCustom/Sitename/Documents/DocumentItem/04MacDonald.pdf. Accessed May 12, 2014.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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