We know: All About Autism

What is autism?

Autism is characterized by three distinctive behaviors. Autistic children:

  • have difficulties with social interaction
  • display problems with verbal and nonverbal communication
  • exhibit repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests

These behaviors can range in impact from mild to disabling.

What is Asperger's Syndrome?

Asperger syndrome is one particular kind of autism spectrum disorder, in which children retain their early language skills. The most distinguishing symptom of Aspergerís is a childís obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other. Other characteristics of Aspergerís include repetitive routines or rituals; peculiarities in speech and language; socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers; problems with non-verbal communication; and clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements.

What causes autism?

Scientists aren't certain what causes autism, but it's likely that both genetics and environment play a role. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder.

How is autism diagnosed?

Autism varies widely in its severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps. Doctors rely on a core group of behaviors to alert them to the possibility of a diagnosis of autism. These behaviors are:

  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
  • restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals

How is autism treated?

There is no cure for autism. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. Treatments include:

  1. Educational/behavioral interventions: Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills. Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with autism often helps families cope with the particular challenges of living with an autistic child.
  2. Medications: Doctors often prescribe an antidepressant medication to handle symptoms of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anti-psychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more of the anticonvulsant drugs. Stimulant drugs, such as those used for children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), are sometimes used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.
  3. Other therapies: There are a number of controversial therapies or interventions available for autistic children, but few, if any, are supported by scientific studies. Parents should use caution before adopting any of these treatments.


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