Autism is a disorder that is usually first diagnosed in early childhood. The main signs and symptoms of autism involve communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors.
Children with autism might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may have to line up their pencils before they can pay attention, or they may say the same sentence again and again to calm themselves down. They may flap their arms to tell you they are happy, or they might hurt themselves to tell you they are not. Some people with autism never learn how to talk.
Because people with autism can have very different features or symptoms, health care providers think of autism as a "spectrum" disorder. Asperger syndrome is a milder version of the disorder.
The cause of autism is not known. Autism lasts throughout a person's lifetime. There is no cure, but treatment can help. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies and medicines to control symptoms.
SIGN AND SYMPTOMS
The severity of symptoms varies greatly between individuals; however, all people with autism have some core symptoms in the areas of:
Symptoms during childhood
Symptoms of autism are usually noticed first by parents and other caregivers sometime during the child's first 3 years. Although autism is present at birth (congenital), signs of the disorder can be difficult to identify or diagnose during infancy. Parents often become concerned when their toddler does not like to be held; does not seem interested in playing certain games, such as peek-a-boo; and does not begin to talk. They also may be confused about their child's hearing abilities. It often seems that a child with autism does not hear, yet at other times, he or she may appear to hear a distant background noise, such as the whistle of a train.
With early and intensive treatment, most children improve their ability to relate to others, communicate, and help themselves, as they grow older. Contrary to popular myths about children with autism, very few are completely socially isolated or "live in a world of their own."
Symptoms during adolescent and teen years
During the teen years, the patterns of behavior often change. Many teens gain skills but still lag behind in their ability to relate to and understand others. Puberty and emerging sexuality may be more difficult for adolescents and teens with autism than for others this age. Teens are at a slightly increased risk for developing problems related to depression, anxiety, and epilepsy.Symptoms in adulthood
Some adults with autism are able to work and live on their own. The degree to which an adult with autism can lead an independent life is related to intelligence and ability to communicate. At least 33% are able to achieve at least partial independence.
Some adults with autism need a lot of assistance, especially those with low intelligence who is unable to speak. Residential treatment programs can provide part or full-time supervision. At the other end of the spectrum, adults with high-functioning autism are often successful in their professions and able to live independently, although they typically continue to have some difficulties relating to other people. These individuals usually have average to above-average intelligence.
Many people with autism have symptoms similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But these symptoms, especially problems with social relationships, are more severe for people with autism. For more information, see the topic Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.About 10% of people with autism have some form of savant skills-special limited gifts such as memorizing lists, calculating calendar dates, drawing, or musical ability Many people with autism have unusual sensory perceptions. For example, they may describe a light touch as painful and deep pressure as providing a calming feeling. Others may not feel pain at all. Some people with autism have strong food likes and dislikes and unusual preoccupations.
Autism is one of several types of pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), also called autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It is not unusual for autism to be confused with other PDDs, such as Asperger's disorder or syndrome, or to have overlapping symptoms. A similar condition is called pervasive developmental disorder-NOS (not otherwise specified). PDD-NOS occurs when children display similar behaviors but do not meet the criteria for autism. It is commonly called just PDD. In addition, other conditions with similar symptoms may also have similarities to or occur with autism.
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