Austism, which is formally known as autism spectrum disorder and goes by the initials ASD, is not one condition but a whole range of very complex neurological developmental disorders, the most severe of which is autistic disorder. Asperger syndrome, which is marked by difficulty in social interactions, repeated behaviors, clumsiness, and sometimes delay in motor skills, is a milder form of ASD.
People with austism often have difficulty in communicating, they are socially impaired, and they have restricted, repetitive, and stereotypical behavior patterns. Austism affects every age, ethnic, and economic group. Males are more than four times as likely to suffer from autism than females. About 3 to 6 children out of every 1,000 have ASD.
It is not known for sure what causes ASD but it is suspected that both genetics and the environment have an effect. Some genes have been identified as playing a role in ASD and studies have indicated irregularities in several regions of the brain in people with ASD. Some studies have found abnormal levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brains of people with ASD, which may be an indication of disruption of normal brain development during pregnancy. However, there is no evidence that the activities of the parents cause or contribute to ASD (that is, the parents are not to blame for their children having ASD).
A baby who has ASD may be unresponsive to other people or he may focus on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time. As the baby gets older, he may appear to be developing normally and then become socially withdrawn. He may not respond to his name and he may avoid eye contact. He may exhibit difficulty in interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because he cannot understand usual social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions. He may engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging. There may be a delay in the start of speaking and he may refer to himself by his name instead of I or me. He may have difficulty in playing with other children and show little interest in other people.
Because the severity and the symptoms of people with ASD varies widely, it may be difficult to diagnose ASD. However, early indicators that may be signs of ASD that need to be evaluated by an appropriate expert include no babbling or pointing by the age of 1; no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by the age of 2; no response to name; loss of language or social skills; poor eye contact; excessive lining up of toys or objects; and, no smiling or social responsiveness. Later signs include impaired ability to make friends with other children; impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with other children; absence or impairment of imaginative and social play; stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language; restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus; preoccupation with certain objects or subjects; and, inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.
Early diagnosis of ASD is important because early treatment and intervention make a difference.
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