Autism is one of a group of neurodevelopmental
disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). These are
characterized by problems with communication and social interaction. Patients
often demonstrate restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped behavior patterns or
Signs and Symptoms
According to the Autism
Society, autism symptoms typically become clearly
evident during early childhood, between 24 months and 6 years of age. Symptoms
include a marked delay in language and cognitive development. There may be
signs of obsessive and/or antisocial behavior.
Asperger syndrome, another PDD, may be
referred to as “high functioning autism.” Asperger syndrome usually lacks the
primary communication and cognitive problems that characterize classic autism.
Autism symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Some people may be considered autistic but manage to function in society
without many setbacks. For others, the condition can have a substantial impact
on their lives.
Causes of Autism
The exact cause of autism and other autism
spectrum disorders (ASDs) is unknown. The most current science demonstrates
that there is no single cause of autism. According to the National
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.
Prevalence of Autism
Autism spectrum disorders are found in
individuals around the world, regardless of race, cultural, or economic
background. According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism does
occur more often in boys than in girls, with a five-to-one male-to-female
The CDC estimates that one in 68 children have been identified with
autism spectrum disorder. There are indications that instances of ASDs are on
the rise. Some fault environmental factors. However, experts debate whether
there is an actual increase in cases or just more frequent diagnoses.
Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Classic autism usually entails substantial problems in all of the areas
affected by ASDs. Someone with Asperger syndrome
has issues with behavioral and social interaction. The symptoms experienced by
people with Asperger syndrome are usually less severe than those experienced by
patients with classic autism.
There is still some debate as to whether
Asperger syndrome is a variation of classic autism. Some argue that it should
be classified as a separate disorder.
Development Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a classification for someone who exhibits signs of
autism but does not fit into the categories of classic autism or Asperger.
Treatments and Outlook
There is no cure for ASDs. The most effective
treatments involve early and intensive behavioral interventions. It is
generally agreed that the earlier a child is enrolled in these programs, the
better their outlook will be.
medicine has not found a cure for ASDs, patients and their advocates have
sought alternatives, including:
- high dose vitamins
- chelation therapy
- hyperbaric oxygen
There is currently no evidence that these
treatments are effective. Parents should weigh the research and financial costs
before investing in any of these therapies for their children.