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Symptoms and treatment of autism

One of the most intriguing child health care issues gaining attention recently is the cluster of conditions known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD. It is also sometimes referred to as pervasive developmental disorder or PDD. The most available information on autism focuses on children with the condition, even though ASD persists when they become adults. Individuals with the condition will demonstrate abnormalities in three of these four areas: social, behavioral, linguistic and intelligence.

What is Autism?

Typically in ASD, the symptoms of abnormal social and intellectual development emerge by age three and last for the rest of the individual's life. The disorder can range from mild to severe, with autism itself at the severe end and related disorders like Asperger syndrome at the mild end. The decision was made to group all of these conditions together because many of the same symptoms are present in all forms, but in different degrees.

Autism symptoms are grouped into four categories:

  • Social. The child with autism does not form typical social relationships with parents or develop peer relationships. They have difficulty communicating with and interpreting social cues and facial expressions. Many avoid eye contact and dislike physical contact.
  • Behavioral. Children with ASD often perform repetitive, purposeless behaviors which may be repeated and take a long time (rocking, sorting objects, hand flapping). They dislike changes in environment, food, clothing and routines. Some individuals with ASD engage in self-injury such as biting or banging their heads against something. The reasons for this type of behavior are unclear.
  • Linguistic. Language development in individuals with ASD is usually delayed, and about half of autistic children never speak at all. Those that do may use unusual speech patterns, repeat the words of others and often cannot engage in dialogue with other people. Figures of speech, similes and other nuances of language are often difficult for them to interpret as well.
  • Intelligence. More than half of the individuals diagnosed with autism have an IQ of less than 70. Their spatial abilities are usually better than their verbal tests (which makes sense given their language impairments), but overall their mental functioning is low. "Autistic savants" are people with both autism and savantism. About 10 percent of people with autism exhibit savantism which is an extraordinary mental capacity in a small area.

Autism Treatment

Many parents of children with ASD want to find autism treatment. Anxiety on socialization aspects of autism is frequent, as are educational concerns. Early symptom recognition and intervention can help the child function at his or her highest possible level, but there is no cure for the disorder. In general, children with autism need to be provided with high structure and organization, intensive speech intervention and behavioral therapy. Each child is unique and pediatricians and autism specialists will work with the parents and the child to develop the best possible treatment plan.

Autism and related disorders are becoming better understood as time goes on and mental health care research develops. Many investigations have been made into the genetic and environmental components which factor into the emergence of the condition. As time goes on, treatments and therapies are likely to continue to improve the lives of people with ASD and the families that support them.

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