What Is Autism?

Autism, or Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is the most common condition in developmental disorders.  Autism is classified as impaired verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited interests.  It is estimated that 3 to 6 children out of every 1,000 have autism, and boys are four times more likely than girls to have the disorder.

One of the most common signs of autism is impaired social interaction.  Children with autism have difficulty engaging in interactive play with others.  They often seem to prefer to be alone, and don’t understand the normal give and take of play or conversations.

Children with autism commonly fail to make eye contact or answer to their name.  They don’t understand social cues like facial expressions or tone of voice, causing reading what other people are saying to be a difficult task.

Many children with autism engage in repetitious movements like rocking, twirling, or flapping.  They may have a decreased sensitivity to pain, but an increased sensitivity to sound and touch.  Parents may find that their child rejects physical contact, and as a result, won’t come to them for comfort when they are hurt or upset.

Language skills are lacking for children with autism.  As an infant, a child may not babble or try to imitate sounds, leading to speech delays.  It is also possible for a child to be developing normally and lose his language skills, or simply plateau and not learn any new words.  He may refer to himself in third person (using name versus “I” or “me”) and use an unusual rhythm or tone when speaking (sing-song or robot-like).

Routine is a key element to an ASD child.  He needs and almost demands structure in his environment.  He may spend hours lining up his toys and become very upset if his toys are moved.  Deviation in an ASD child’s day could lead to a tantrum or melt-down.  An autistic child may have certain routines that he must complete before he can participate in a task.

For many children, however, their symptoms of autism can improve over time.  Early diagnosis is imperative to coordinate treatments and therapies to target each child’s unique range of symptoms and behaviors.