Autism is a disorder in which a child has problems with communicating and getting along with others. They have unusual or repetitive actions and may have a keen interest in only one subject or activity. For example, they may be obsessed with trains or a particular science fiction movie.
Autism may also be called a pervasive developmental disorder, because a child who has it does not develop normally in several ways.
Boys are more likely to have autism than girls.
The exact cause of this disorder is not known.
Children with autism may look and act normal for the first few months of life. Over time, your child may become less responsive to you. There are many symptoms, but not all autistic children will have all of these symptoms. They may have some symptoms that are not on this list.
Behavior, activities, and interests
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child's development at each well child visit. Tell your provider about any concerns you have and any behavior that seems unusual. As a parent or caregiver, you are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in your child. Do not ignore problems, thinking that your child is just a little slow and will "catch up." Early treatment helps reduce symptoms. It increases your child's ability to grow and learn new skills.
Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and ask about your child's symptoms and your family history of any medical and mental problems. Your child may have tests such as:
Because it can be inherited, your healthcare provider may want to screen your other children for symptoms.
If your healthcare provider thinks your child may have autism, he or she will refer you to specialists such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, or neurologist. They can do more testing and advise you about treatment. Your school district may also provide testing services for your child.
There is no one best treatment for all children with autism. Before you decide on your child's treatment, find out what your options are. Learn as much as you can and make your choice for your child's treatment based on your child's needs. A good treatment program will:
Usually children are placed in public schools and the school district provides all needed services. These will include working with a speech therapist, occupational therapist, school psychologist, social worker, school nurse, or aide. You may want to visit public schools in your area to see the type of program they offer to special needs children.
A team of professionals will help evaluate your child and put a plan together. You may also ask your healthcare provider to review the plan. Ask and find out all the services that may be available for your child.
A cognitive behavioral therapist can help your child learn to manage stress, and cut back on obsessive interests and repetitive routines. Other therapies may include art therapy, music therapy or sensory integration, which helps reduce your child's sensitivity to touch or sound. Treatment will also include doing activities at home.
Medicine is often used to treat behavioral problems, anxiety, or other problems. These medicines must be prescribed by a doctor experienced with their use in children with this disorder.
Parents often learn of new or alternative treatments through friends or the media. No diet or dietary supplement has been proven to treat autistic spectrum disorders. Your provider can help you decide if alternative treatments could help or harm your child.