Autism is a lifelong complex neuro-developmental disorder, with biological roots thought to be present at birth, which continues through adulthood. Autism can affect any child and family from any race, ethnic or socioeconomic group anywhere in the world.
- Autism affects development in the areas of social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and behavior, including intense preoccupations, interests, and repetitive movements. Symptoms may also include extreme reactions to changes in routines, and over-or under-responsiveness to noise, light, textures and tastes. It is estimated that up to 30% of children diagnosed with autism have an early period of typical social and communication development, and then lose some or all of these skills. Among the early signs that raise concerns is delay in speech and language development. Symptoms of autism can range from mild to severe, and vary greatly from person to person; this is why now the name Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is used. Differences in symptoms and severity levels can be across all developmental domains, including language, social, emotional, and intellectual.
- According to most recent estimates reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD in the US; in the year 2000 this estimate was 1 in 110 children, and in 2006, 1 in 88 children. The estimate in boys is as high as 1 in 42; ASD is up to 4.5 times more common in boys than in girls. Studies are being conducted to help understand what is behind this difference, and how it affects the timing of the diagnosis in girls.
- A significant number of symptoms of autism are present by 18 months of age, or even earlier, and a reliable diagnosis can be made at the age of two years. However, most children are not diagnosed until 3 to 4 years of age or later. Additionally, sociocultural factors that result in disparity or delay of diagnosis beyond these ages have been identified.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screened specifically for ASD during well-child doctor visits at 18 and 24 months.
- In terms of symptoms or characteristics children or adults with ASD might:
- not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
- not look at objects when another person points at them
- have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
- avoid eye contact and want to be alone
- have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
- appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
- be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
- repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
- have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
- not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
- repeat actions over and over again
- have trouble adapting when a routine changes
- have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look feel, or sound
- lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)
- While the causes of autism are not yet known, some risk factors have been identified. Among them are family history, parental age, and certain other neurodevelopmental disorders.
- Research indicates that early identification and interventions tailored to each child’s strengths and needs can result in significant positive outcomes for many children with autism. Interventions typically focus on social emotional development, behavior management, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training, and special education methods to promote development in the preschool years, and educational achievement in the school-age years.
- In California, the Regional Centers coordinate services for individuals with autism from birth on. According to the Autism Insurance Law which went into effect in July 2012, health plans governed by California are to include coverage for autism as a medical benefit. The public schools provide special education services through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process from ages 3-22 years.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) –Learn the Signs Act Early
Autism Speaks www.autismspeaks.org
First Signs www.firstsigns.org
Disability Rights California http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/