Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
While autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD is the most severe form of ASD, other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive development disorder.
The hallmark feature of ASD, according to the NINDS, is impaired social interaction. Even as early as infancy, a baby with ASD may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time.
They may appear to develop normally, and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement. Children with ASD may fail to respond to their names and often avoid eye contact with other people. They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they cannot understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions.
How is it diagnosed?
ASD varies widely in severity and symptoms and my go unrecognized, especially in mild cases. Very early indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:
• no babbling or pointing by age one
• no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age two
• no response to name or poor eye contact
• loss of language or social skills
• excessive lining up of toys or objects
• no smiling or social responsiveness
Later indicators include impaired ability to make friends with peers or sustain conversations with others, restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus, inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals, or absence or impairment of imaginative and social play.
What causes Autism?
Scientists aren’t sure about what causes ASD, but they feel it’s likely that both genetic and environment play a role. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder.
The theory that parental practices are responsible for ASD has long been disproved, according to NINDS. Twin and family studies strongly suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition to Autism. There are an umber of studies in progress to determine the specific genetic factors associated with the development of ASD.
In families with one child with ASD, the risk of having a second child with the disorder is approximately five percent, or one in 20, which is greater than the risk for the general population.
The NINDS said that researchers are looking for clues about which genes contribute to this increased susceptibility.
Do symptoms change over time?
For many children, symptoms improve with treatment and age. Although there is no cure for ASD, therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement.
Educational/behavioral interventions, medications, and other therapies are used to treat the symptoms of ASD.