What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a brain disorder that results in a lifetime of impaired thinking, feeling, and social functioning. It is difficult for children with autism to express themselves using words, form relationships with others and respond appropriately to the external world.

They usually keep to themselves and many cannot communicate without special help. They may also react to what is going on around them in unusual ways. Sounds may also bother children with autism, so much so that they cover their ears.

Children with autism don't like changes in routines. They like to stay on a schedule that is always the same. They may insist that their toys or things be arranged in a certain way and get upset if these items are moved or disturbed.

Children with autism often cannot make connections that other children. For example, when someone smiles, children with autism may have trouble connecting that smile with the person's happy feelings. Autism might cause children to act in unusual ways.

They might flap their hands, repeat certain words over again and have temper tantrums. Scientists are still trying to understand why this happens. No one knows what causes it. But some children with mild autism will grow up and be able to live on their own.

Those with more serious problems will always need some kind of help. However, all children with autism have brighter futures when they have the support and understanding of doctors, teachers, parents, siblings and friends.

Knowing the exact cause of autism is hard because the human brain is very complicated. The brain contains over 100 billion nerve cells called neurons. Each neuron may have hundreds or thousands of connections that carry messages to other nerve cells in the brain and body.

The connections and the chemical messengers they send let the neurons that help us see, feel, move, remember, and work together as they should.

Children with autism for some reason, some of the cells and connections in the brain, especially those that affect communication, emotions, and senses, don't develop properly.

Parents are usually the first to suspect that something is wrong. Some children with autism appear normal before age 1 or 2 and then suddenly "regress" and lose language or social skills that they had previously gained.

The children maybe old enough to speak but doesn't, they also doesn't seem interested in people. But autism isn't the only problem that can cause these kinds of symptoms. For example, children who have hearing problems might have trouble speaking too.

Medical tests are normal in children with autism. These medical tests can include blood and urine tests, a hearing exam, an EEG (a test to measure brain waves), and an MRI (a picture that shows the structure of the brain). Intelligence (IQ) tests also might be done.

Most behavioral treatment programs include:

* Clear instructions to the child

* Prompting to perform specific behaviors

* Immediate praise and rewards for performing those behaviours

* A gradual increase in the complexity of reinforced behaviors

* Parents educated in behavioral techniques, can participate in the child's care and treatment.

* The autistic child requires much of the parents' attention, often affecting the other children in the family.

* Counseling and support may be helpful for the parents.

Children with autism may:

* Be overly sensitive in sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste

* Have unusual distress when routines are changed

* Perform repeated body movements

* Show unusual attachments to objects

Communication problems may include:

* Cannot start or maintain a social conversation

* Communicates with gestures instead of words

* Develops language slowly or not at all

* Does not adjust gaze to look at objects that others are looking at

* Repeats words or memorized passages

Social interaction:

* Does not make friends

* Does not play interactive games

* Is withdrawn

* May not respond to eye contact smiles, or may avoid eye contact

* May treat others as if they are objects

* Prefers to spend time alone, rather than with others

* Shows a lack of empathy

Response to sensory information:

* Does not startle at loud noises

* Has heightened or low senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste

* May find normal noises painful and hold hands over ears

* May withdraw from physical contact

* Rubs surfaces, mouths or licks objects

* Seems to have a heightened or low response to pain


* Doesn't imitate the actions of others

* Prefers solitary or ritualistic play

* Shows little pretend or imaginative play


* "Acts up" with intense tantrums

* Gets stuck on a single topic or task

* Has a short attention span

* Has very narrow interests

* Is overactive or very passive

* Uses repetitive body movements

* Shows aggression to others or self



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