What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders. Autism in children is characterized by repetitive behavior patterns and problems with social interaction and communication.
Who Will Develop Autism?
According to the CDC, about 1.5% of children will develop autism. They will fall along a spectrum. Some children will be highly affected and need a great deal of support. Others will learn needed skills and grow up to become fully independent. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD. However, there is some evidence that the disorder presents differently in girls, making them less likely to be detected.
What Causes Autism?
This is currently unknown. However, there is mounting evidence that there may be multiple factors that make the child more likely to develop this disorder. This can include genetics (having a parent or sibling with ASD makes it more likely), and biological or environmental factors (exposure to certain prescription drugs during pregnancy seems to raise the risk).
The old explanation, that ASD is caused by bad parenting or vaccines, has been thoroughly disproved.
What Are the Signs of Autism?
No two children with ASD will behave exactly alike. However, some general warning signs are:
- Doesn’t respond to their name.
- Delayed language skills
- Avoids eye contact and being held.
- Strongly dislikes changes in routine.
- Repeats motions such as spinning, rocking, and hand-flapping.
- Strong sensory dislikes.
- Doesn’t interact with other children.
These signs may become obvious by the time the child is 2-3 years old.
Can Autism be Cured?
At this time, there is no known treatment that can cure autism in children. However, there are interventions that can greatly help the child with ASD and their family. These are tailored to their individual needs and could include:
- teaching communication skills
- physical therapy
- social skills interventions
- a nutritionist building an eating plan for children with food aversions
- an individualized education program to help them succeed in school
What Can You Do?
If you think your child has autism, there is a lot you can do to help. Educate yourself about this disorder. Learn what resources are available. Get your child early intervention. Participate in ‘homework’ exercises to help their newly-learned skills become second nature.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. This is a stressful time for everyone in the family. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done, but you can’t care for your child unless you’re also taking care of yourself. If you need help, whether it’s a break from childcare or a friendly ear, reach out. There are support groups for families affected with autism who can help and advise you.