Autism & Asperger's

Part 1 of 4

 

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What Is Autism?

Autism is a brain disorder that limits a person's ability to communicate and relate to other people. It first appears in young children, who fall along a spectrum from mild to severe. Some people can navigate their world, some have exceptional abilities, while others struggle to speak. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) affect about one child in 68, striking nearly five times as many boys as girls.

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Signs of Autism

Before a child turns three, careful observers can see signs of autism. Some children develop normally until 18-24 months old and then stop or lose skills. Signs of an ASD can include:

  • Repeated motions (rocking or spinning)
  • Avoiding eye contact or physical touch
  • Delays in learning to talk
  • Repeating words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Getting upset by minor changes

It's important to note that these signs can occur in children without ASDs, too.

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Early Warning Signs: First Year

Even young infants are very social, so it’s possible to detect signs of autism in how babies interact with their world. At this age, a child with an ASD may:

  • Not turn to a mother’s voice
  • Not respond to his own name
  • Not look people in the eye
  • Have no babbling or pointing by age one
  • Not smile or respond to social cues from others

Babies who do not have autism can have these behaviors, too, but it's best to contact your doctor right away with any concerns.

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Early Warning Signs: Year Two

The signs of autism are more noticeable in a child’s second year. While other children are forming their first words and pointing to things they want, a child with autism remains detached. Signs of autism include:

  • No single words by 16 months
  • No pretend games by 18 months
  • No two-word phrases by age 2
  • Loss of language skills
  • No interest when adults point out objects, such as a plane flying overhead

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Other Signs and Symptoms

People with autism sometimes may have physical symptoms, including digestive problems such as constipation and sleep problems. Children may have poor coordination of the large muscles used for running and climbing, or the smaller muscles of the hand. About a third of people with autism also have seizures.

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How Does Autism Affect the Brain?

Autism affects parts of the brain that control emotions, communication, and body movements. By the toddler years, some children with ASDs have unusually large heads and brains -- which may be because of problems with brain growth. Abnormal genes, passed down through a family, have been linked to poor functions in some parts of the brain. Researchers hope to find a way to diagnose autism through brain scans.