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Autism - What is it?

Autism - What is it?

Autism is a developmental disorder that can be characterized by several common symptoms. The condition affects the way the brain processes information by changing the ways nerve cells and synapses in the brain connect. While the cause of this is not clearly understood, there are several classic signs of autism that typically become apparent in children before they reach three years of age. The classic autistic disorder is one of three disorders that is recognized in the autism spectrum, and it is primarily distinguished from the others by deficits in social development.

What are the Symptoms

While the exact symptoms of autism can vary greatly, there are a few characteristic symptoms that doctors can readily use to diagnose the disorder when other symptoms are present. There is a classic trio of symptoms that begin to develop after a child reaches six months of age and become well-established and noticeable by the age of two to three years. This triad of symptoms includes impaired social interaction, repetitive behavior, and impairments in communication. While other symptoms like atypical eating habits are common signs of autism, they are not necessary for reaching a diagnosis.

In distinguishing autism and autism spectrum disorders from other developmental disorders, the most critical symptom is impaired social development. Autistic individuals experience difficulties when socializing with others through both verbal and nonverbal communication. Children with autism typically respond less to social stimuli beginning at an early age. They are likely to exhibit less eye contact and answer to their names. They also tend to lack the ability to communicate through movements such as pointing at things. For most, responding to and imitating the emotions of others is another challenge. In some cases, patients may also experience anger or aggression. Aggression is often linked to the child's inability to understand and communicate with his or her peers.

Are There Treatments?

Because the exact cause of autism is not clearly understood; the methods of treatment vary. The primary goal is to lessen the child's symptoms and provide both the patient and his or her family with an increased quality of life. Different methods are more effective for some children than others. When the disorder is diagnosed early, children are often enrolled in special education and behavior therapy programs so they can learn how to function in society. This treatment often allows patients to manage their condition and go on to live healthy, productive lives without significant difficulties. In addition to early intervention, special education, and therapy, many autistic children have also been prescribed medications designed to treat the symptoms of the disorder. Patients are often given psychoactive drugs such as stimulants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. For many children, these medications have made normal social development and interaction possible.