What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. One should also keep in mind that Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means it affects each individual differently and at varying degrees. Therefore, early diagnosis is so crucial. By learning the signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, a child can then begin to benefit from one of the many specialized intervention programs.

What Causes Autism?

Though there is no single cause or cure; Autism Spectrum Disorder is treatable. Early diagnosis paired with early and intensive behavioral intervention will lead to socially significant and improved outcomes. Unfortunately, professionals still don’t know. Many of the cases are idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.

Just as there are different levels of severity and combinations of symptoms of Autism, there may also be multiple causes. The best scientific evidence available today points us to multiple variables and combinations of causes- there are multiple genetic components that may cause Autism on their own, or possibly when combined with exposure to undetermined environmental triggers.

Early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Not babbling – Babbling refers to the sounds that babies make before they begin to talk, such as vowel and consonant combinations like “ba”, “da”, and “gee”. Twelve month olds should look at someone while they babble, and take turns babbling with caregivers (like a back-and-forth babbling “conversation”).
  • Not pointing – Such as pointing to ask for things (pointing to the cookie bag up on the shelf) or pointing to get someone’s attention (pointing to an airplane flying by).
  • Not showing objects to caregivers – 12-month olds hold up interesting objects and show them to their caregivers (as if to say “hey mom, look at this!”).
  • Lack of other gestures – Besides pointing and showing, 12 month old children should also be reaching to be picked up, waving, and shaking their head (for “no”).
  • Lack of shared enjoyment – Shared enjoyment refers to a child’s desire to interact with others, just for the sake of connecting. If a child does not seek out this type of interaction, or rarely smiles or laughs when playing with a caregiver, this is a red flag for autism.
  • Repetitive actions or movements – Refers to, for example, spinning a car wheel over and over again, rather than playing with the toy appropriately. Another example would be a child flapping his hands repetitively. Some typically-developing babies do these types of repetitive actions once in a while, but babies with Autism Spectrum Disorder demonstrate these actions more often.
  • Poor eye contact– A child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may not look at caregivers when communicating or playing with them.
  • Not following an adult’s pointed finger– Not looking in the direction of a caregiver’s finger when he or she points to something. For example, a typical 12-month old will look when their mother points to a toy on the shelf.
  • Paying more attention to objects than people– All children are fascinated with toys and interesting objects, but young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder will spend much more of their time with objects than people.
  • Limited play with toys – A young child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may only engage with a small number of toys, or play with just a part of the toy (the wheels of the toy car) rather than the whole toy.
  • Not copying actions or sounds– Not imitating actions like clapping hands, banging on a drum, or people’s speech sounds.
  • Not responding to his or her name when called – Some parents of young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder initially wonder if their child is hearing properly, or think that their child is just ignoring them when they call his or her name. Children with delayed language should have a hearing test to rule out a hearing problem. But young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder don’t respond when their name is called even though their hearing is fine. This is due to difficulties with paying attention and understanding language.


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