Understanding Autism in Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 59 children have an identified autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Autism affects the way a person communicates and interacts with others. It does not affect all people equally, rather there are varying degrees of severity. Symptoms typically arise during childhood, as early as 18 months.

Some common symptoms to watch for include:

  • Delays in speech
  • Difficulty understanding others
  • Repetition of words or actions
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Little interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of response when other people are talking to them
  • Little use of imagination
  • Difficulty using the correct pronouns
  • Intense focus on one particular object or piece of an object
  • Difficulty when changing schedules

While there is no known cause for ASD, there are certain risk factors. Autism is widespread, affecting all sexes, ethnicities and socioeconomic groups, however, boys are four times more likely to develop autism than girls. Children born to older parents are at an increased risk for being diagnosed with autism. Genes also play a role. If the child’s family has a history of autism, the child is more likely to be diagnosed with autism.

If you believe your child may have autism, experts encourage you to talk to your doctors as soon as possible. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages all children to be screened for autism at their 18-month and 24-month check-ups regardless of whether they’re showing symptoms. If you believe your child may have autism, you can complete the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, which will provide a better understanding of the likelihood that your child has autism.

Because autism affects behavior, early intervention is key to having the best possible outcomes. Adjustments to daily life and therapy can help manage symptoms. Therapy may include methods to help the child interact with others through communication or actions. Tactics may focus on sensory integration, speech development and building relationships to help them in their daily lives.

Outside of therapy, common practices for helping children with autism are organized and provide a structure for the child.

Early intervention also helps to minimize the negative impact autism may have on the child’s mental health throughout their life. Unfortunately, 70 percent of individuals diagnosed with autism are also diagnosed with at least one mental health problem. Early education and therapy techniques may help to minimize symptoms, which will help their mental health down the road.

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