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A Medical Guide to Autism


by Dr. Mary Williams, R.N. D.C.


Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability. Approximately one in 68 children have received this medical diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This statistic derived from a study conducted in 2010 on 8-year-old children living in different communities in the United States. When parents have a child with this diagnosis, they usually need support and information to navigate the process of caring for the youngster.

Characteristics

People with autism usually display common symptoms. These characteristics can include difficulties with social interaction. Often, people will show a diminished ability to communicate both verbally and nonverbally with others. It is also common for people with autism to display unusual or repetitive behaviors such as making certain sounds or repeating movements. Interest in activities and hobbies may also be reduced for people with autism spectrum disorder.

Causes

Researchers are exploring autism spectrum disorders to determine the cause of this disability. Presently, scientists have not determined a singular issue that causes this problem. People who develop this disability may do so because of a combination of factors, including heredity: Autism may occur with higher prevalence in some families. It's possible that issues could occur during pregnancy or childbirth that make a child more likely to develop autism.

Diagnosis

Many children begin showing symptoms of problems before the age of 18 months. However, kids may not receive a firm diagnosis of autism until they are 2 or 3 years old. This delay may occur due to the timing of language development. A child showing issues with diminished verbalization by age 2 or 3 will likely lead parents and physicians to investigate the cause for the lack of language skills. Diagnosis can also be challenging because autism varies significantly in severity and how it manifests in patients. Early diagnosis is crucial for long-term well-being of a child. Professionals have indicated that diagnosis before age 3 is important for early intervention and treatment, which should help with overall improvement of symptoms.

Screening

The screening process is an integral part of diagnosis. A physician will examine a child at checkups to ensure that the youngster is reaching milestones. A child who is not showing typical development will usually warrant special testing to determine what could be causing the difficulties. No specific autism test exists, but a specialist can perform an autism screening to see if a child shows common symptoms. Screening involves a professional observing a child to see how the youngster communicates and responds in various social situations. The professional will also interview parents and other family members to learn information about how a child communicates and behaves. Information about how the child has developed social and language skills is important during the screening process.

Other Common Conditions in Children With Autism

Some medical conditions tend to occur in conjunction with autism. People with diagnoses of tuberous sclerosis, fragile X syndrome, congenital rubella syndrome, and unresolved phenylketonuria may also experience autism at a higher frequency. It's also possible that some substances ingested by women during pregnancy could lead to higher risks of autism in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that taking valproic acid or thalidomide during pregnancy could result in a higher risk of autism for the newborn.

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