Autism is defined as disordered neural development manifested through impaired social interaction skills, difficulties in communication, delayed cognitive development, or repetitive body movements. It’s not fully clear what causes autism or exactly how it affects interaction of nerve cells in the brain; however, autism is connected to rare genetic mutations as well as rare combinations of common genetic material. This is a disease of no known cure and the course of its development is very unpredictable. While many children are unable to grow into independent individuals, some do become very successful adults whose autism is accepted as simple behavioral differences rather than disorder.
Autism is mostly diagnosed in early childhood (before the age of three). Some children exhibit signs of autism gradually while others, at first, seem to develop normally and then regress to autism. Parents are usually the first to notice odd behavior. Autistic babies have poor response to environmental stimulants and seem to be preoccupied with their own internal world. They don’t interact with others, don’t pay attention to audio distractions, they have difficulties developing language skills (no babbling, talking, or even responding to their names when called), and sometimes they don’t smile or have difficulties keeping eye contact. Autistic children are extremely emotionally sensitive. Simple and common events, sounds, smells, or touches may provoke extreme emotional reaction. They have problems understanding what others feel, think, or communicate to them, and also have troubles expressing their own feelings either through words, facial expressions, sounds, or body movements.
These are just some examples of odd behavior that may suggest your child is suffering from autism:
-Repeating certain words or body movements (head rolling, body rocking, hands flapping)
-Strong attachments to specific objects (a single toy, game, or TV channel)
-Always rearranging toys or small objects in piles or rows
-Attacks of breath holding, hyperventilation, or air-swallowing
-Strong negative reaction, such as panicky screaming, inconsolable crying, aggression, or even self-injuring, to small everyday changes in routines (EX: rearranging furniture, taking a walk on a different path, changing meal time, getting dressed in new clothes, etc.)
-Self-injuring reactions (banging the head, making painful scratches on the skin, or biting their hands) to people they aren’t used to while other times they don’t seem to notice anyone around them at all.
Some autistic children, although showing very low IQ scores, seem to display incredible and higher-than-normal abilities to memorize information, make rapid calculations, paint, or play instruments while other autistic kids have significant mental retardation and are almost completely unable to communicate with the outside world.
Although autism cannot be cured, it’s important to recognize and diagnose it as early as possible. If you suspect something may be wrong, seek help; don’t wait. Early treatments and interventions can often decrease symptoms of autism and help improve a child’s development.