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   Health > Ailments > Autism - Signs and S
Autism - Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Autism is a severe developmental disorder that begins at birth or within the first two-and-a-half years of life. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviours, which are markedly different from those of typical children.

Less severe cases may be diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or with Aspergers Syndrome (these children typically have normal speech, but they have many 'autistic' social and behavioural problems).

Autism (sometimes called 'classical autism') is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.

Signs and Symptoms of Autism

The list of symptoms and behaviours associated with autism is long, and each affected person expresses his or her own combination of these behaviors. None of these clinical features is common to all people with autism, and many are occasionally exhibited by people who are not autistic.

Autistic infants may act relatively normal during their first few months of life before becoming less responsive to their parents and other stimuli. They may have difficulty with feeding or toilet training; may not smile in recognition of their parents' faces, and may put up resistance to being cuddled.

An autistic child has poor judgment and is therefore always at risk for danger. For instance, an autistic child may run into a busy street without any sign of fear.

During adolescence, some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioural problems. Parents of these children should be ready to adjust treatment for their child as needed.

Autistic persons often exhibit a variety of repetitive, abnormal behaviours. There may also be a hypersensitivity to sensory input through vision, hearing, or touch (tactile). As a result, there may be an extreme intolerance to loud noises or crowds, visual stimulation, or things that are felt.

Young children with autism also have a hard time sharing experiences with others. When someone reads to them, for example, they're unlikely to point at pictures in the book. This early-developing social skill is crucial to later language and social development.

Sleep problems are known to be more common in children with developmental disabilities, and there is some evidence that children with ASD are more likely to have even more sleep problems than those with other developmental disabilities; autistic children may experience problems including difficulty in falling asleep, frequent nocturnal awakenings, and early morning awakenings. Dominick et al. found that about two-thirds of children with ASD had a history of sleep problems

Treatment for Autism

Diet: Some children with autism appear to respond to a gluten-free or a casein-free diet. Gluten is found in foods containing wheat, rye, and barley. Casein is found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Not all experts agree that dietary changes will make a difference, and not all reports studying this method have shown positive results.

Behavioural and communication therapies: Many programs have been developed to address the range of social, language and behavioural difficulties associated with autism. Some programs focus on reducing problem behaviours and teaching new skills. Other programs focus on teaching children how to act in social situations or how to communicate better with other people.

Communication therapy: Communication therapy is used to treat autistic patients who are unable to communicate verbally, or to initiate language development in young children with the disorder. Speech therapy may be used to help patients gain the ability to speak. Medicine: Medicines are often used to treat behaviour or emotional problems that people with autism may have.

These include hyperactivity, impulsiveness, attention problems, irritability, mood swings, outbursts, tantrums, aggression, extreme compulsions that the child finds it impossible to suppress, sleep difficulty, and anxiety. Currently, only risperidone is approved for treatment of children ages 5-16 with irritability and aggression associated with autism.

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