An Autism Primer

Autism is a life-long developmental disability that results in severe problems in social relationships, communication, and behavior. Autism is a brain disorder that is present from birth, but often does not show up until around the age of four, when parents notice their child is acting “different”.

You notice that your child may be acting “different”, or doing things that just don’t seem to fit the “normal” child. How do you know if it could be autism?

The degree of severity of developmental characteristics differs from child to child, but usually includes severe delays in language development, social relationships, sensory problems, and uneven intellectual development. The child might appear to be deaf, or become highly upset at the change of routine. In its milder form, autism might resemble a learning disability.

The cause of autism is still unknown. Some research suggests there is a physical problem affecting parts of the brain that process language and information. Other research suggests there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Still other research suggests that genetics play a key role in autism, that it is inherited.

Autism is a major developmental disability. It occurs more commonly in males that females, though why is not known. Four of every five people with autism are male.

One of the common problems in individuals with autism is language development. Some autistic people have little if any language problems, while others have no speech at all. Individuals with autism have extreme difficulty in learning language. Another one of the most common problems in autistic people is social skills, and how to relate to people. Autistic people often do not understand the social rules, or correct social behavior. Behavior problems in the autistic person run from mild to severe. Some of the behavioral problems may persist and be difficult to change.

Autism is sometimes confused or incorrectly diagnosed as mental retardation. The difference in autism and mental retardation is that a mentally retarded person will develop evenly in skills areas, while an autistic person’s development is generally uneven, and they are often unable to relate or communicate properly to others. Also the person with autism might also have other problems as well, such as mental retardation, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD.

The person with autism can be helped and treated. Teachers and people using structured programs that emphasize individual instruction, and a consistent routine, can help the autistic individual learn to function at home, school, work, and in the community.

Individuals with autism usually exhibit certain types of behavior. However, these symptoms can range from one end of the spectrum to the other, from mild to severe. Autism is not the same in every person that has it.

If your child shows at least half of the traits below, you might wish to contact your health care provider. It is important to understand that all autistic people are not that same, and do not necessarily exhibit all of these symptoms.

*Difficulty in mixing with other children.
*Insistence of sameness. Resists changes in routine.
*Inappropriate laughing and giggling.
*No real fear of dangers.
*Little or no eye contact.
*Sustained odd play.
*Apparent insensitivity to pain.
*Echolalia (repeating words or phrases in place of normal language).
*Prefers to be alone. Aloof manner.
*May not want cuddling or act cuddly.
*Spins objects.
*Not responsive to verbal cues. Acts as if deaf.
*Inappropriate attachment to objects.
*Difficulty in expressing needs. Uses gestures or pointing instead of words.
*Noticeable physical over activity or extreme underactivity.
*Uneven gross/fine motor skills.

While there is no “cure” for autism, there is help and hope. Early intervention can make a lot of difference in your child’s future.

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