April is Autism Awareness Month. Though it’s likely we all know someone who has this diagnosis, we don’t all know what it means. Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and difficulties in social interaction and communication. Parents usually notice gradually developing signs during the first two years of their child’s life. The symptoms vary widely. A professional should evaluate any child showing behaviors of autism. An early autism diagnosis will improve the outcomes of educational and treatment programs.
Symptoms of Autism
The national Autism Society lists the following red flags as signs of autism:
- Baby doesn’t coo or making babbling noises by 12 months.
- Baby doesn’t gesture – wave or point – by 12 months.
- Baby doesn’t use single words by 16 months.
- Baby doesn’t use two-word phrases by 24 months.
- Baby or child loses language or social skill at any age.
What Causes Autism?
Scientists have been unable to find a single cause for autism, but they do generally accept that autism is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Theories for the causes of autism include heredity, genetics, and other medical conditions. No one gene has been identified, but researchers are looking for irregular segments of inherited genetic code, including a cluster of unstable genes that interfere with brain development.
The latest research also includes pregnancy and delivery research, dietary considerations, infectious diseases, solvents, PCBs, phthalates, and phenols used in plastic products, pesticides, flame retardants, and other environmental factors.
As there is no one cause for autism, there is also no one treatment. Nonmedical educational interventions include teaching strategies to introduce new behaviors or reduce inappropriate actions. Art and music as well as animal therapy are known to help with sensory and auditory stimulation. There is no medical cure for autism, but some medicines are used to treat some specific symptoms of autism, such as irritability and sleep disturbance.
What Can You Do for Autism?
The first step in helping someone with autism is understanding that autism is a spectrum of symptoms. Next, consider helping a local autism society affiliate. Many affiliates hold special events during April for Autism Awareness Month to raise funds for research and for general informational outreach. Volunteer with your local affiliate or donate to autism research.
If you have questions regarding autism in children, contact Green Hills Pediatric Associates.