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What is

Autism

Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees.

There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism compared to in neurotypical children. Researchers do not know the exact cause of autism but are investigating a number of theories, including the links among heredity, genetics and medical problems.

In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting the theory that the disorder has a genetic basis. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that children with autism may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single “trigger” that causes autism to develop.

Other researchers are investigating the possibility that under certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain development, resulting in autism. Still other researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances and exposure to chemicals.

 

DIAGNOSIS, SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

The behaviors of autism spectrum disorder may be apparent in infancy, but they usually become clearer during early childhood. As part of a well-baby or well-child visit, your child’s doctor should perform a “developmental screening” and encourage you to ask specific questions about your child’s development progress.The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) developed a detailed list of behaviors, listed in four categories (shown below). Additionally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has a developed a list of Signs and Symptoms, which can be found here.

  • Communication
  • Social Behavior
  • Stereotyped Behavior
  • Other Behavior