The medical definition of autism is extremely complex and difficult to understand. Many parents would prefer to work with a therapist who can describe the condition in more simple terms. Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects many areas of development and causes impairments in communication, social, and intellectual skills. Symptoms of autism may be mild, moderate, or severe, requiring institutional care depending on the severity. There are also many differences between children with autism and those without it, including their interests and narrow-mindedness.
People with autism may have various learning difficulties, develop skills unevenly, have difficulty communicating and interacting with others. Some people with autism may be gifted in art, mathematics, and memory, or perform exceptionally well on tests of analysis or problem-solving. Though there is a larger number of children diagnosed with autism each year, the latest statistics may be an accurate reflection of a changing definition of autism. As such, the autism definition is constantly changing to reflect new research findings.
The severity of autism is based on the limitations in social interaction, restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, and rigid thinking patterns. Repetitive behaviors can include motor movements, speech, and ritualized behaviors. Researchers are still working on determining the exact cause of autism, but are focusing on possible links between heredity, genetics, and medical issues. Even in the absence of a specific cause, an autism diagnosis can improve a child’s quality of life and provide a supportive community environment for the parent and child.
Early intervention is essential to the treatment of autism and reducing the symptoms. The early identification and development of skills helps an individual with autism live a more normal life. Therapies are available to treat symptoms, improve functioning, and build strengths. Early intervention is critical, as each child is different and has different needs. Some people with autism have additional medical conditions, including seizures and gastrointestinal or feeding difficulties. A doctor may prescribe medication or behavioral therapy, or a combination of both.
The DSM-IV grouped autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s syndrome was a developmental disorder with high intellectual and verbal skills, whereas PDD-NOS was a more general diagnosis. However, the DSM-5 does not recognize these two disorders as separate diagnoses. As a result, individuals who were previously diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or PDD-NOS may now be given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
As early diagnosis is crucial for treatment, the symptoms of autism are not always easily discernible. A doctor will be able to make a diagnosis after observing symptoms and asking questions about developmental milestones. Doctors will usually screen children for developmental delays and referral for further evaluation. In addition to a pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, and a speech-language pathologist will help in the evaluation process. The symptoms of autism start to appear during the first three years of life, and are often accompanied by medical and sensory problems.
One of the hallmarks of ASD is the development of stereotyped movements and repetitive interests. A person with ASD may be overly interested in certain things, such as bridges. Other stereotyped movements and behaviors include hand flapping, excessive touching, smelling, counting, and smelling things. People with ASD may also engage in aggressive behavior. And if these symptoms persist, they may have a higher risk of developing a full-blown autism diagnosis.
Scientists are still searching for the precise cause of autism but do know that it runs in families. However, there is no single “trigger” that will cause autism. As a result, all individuals meeting diagnostic criteria fall within the autism spectrum. So, the most comprehensive definition of autism is still the most accurate one. And, even if scientists cannot pinpoint an exact cause of autism, they can still make a correct diagnosis by using broader criteria.
The majority of children with ASD are boys. According to statistics from the United States, boys are at a higher risk of autism than girls. Despite the gender gap, ASD is not uncommon among children in any racial or ethnic group. As with many developmental disabilities, autism often manifests differently among boys and girls. However, early detection and intervention can change the course of the disorder and make it easier for individuals with autism to lead fulfilling lives.
A diagnosis of autism is usually based on a series of diagnostic evaluations that include interviews and standardized observations of the child. Other disciplines may be involved in the evaluation, such as psychiatry, physiology, and genetics. During the evaluation, the physician and psychologist will examine a variety of measurable indicators and will make a diagnosis. In older children, there may be subtle differences in voice tones, facial expressions, and body language. Some children may struggle to understand humor or form friendships.