Autism is a developmental disability characterized by significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Children with autism often communicate, interact, behave, and learn in atypical ways. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, and are about four times more common in boys than girls. The causes of autism are not fully known, but there are many likely contributors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is currently working on one of the largest U.S. studies to date, called Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), which is looking at many possible risk factors for autism, including genetic, environmental, pregnancy, and behavioral factors.
According to the CDC, the following are common signs of autism: not pointing at objects to show interest, failing to look at an object pointed out by someone else, difficulty relating to others or being generally disinterested in other people, avoidance of eye contact and self-isolation, trouble understanding others’ feelings or communicating their own, preferring not to be cuddled (or only when they want to), appearing not to be aware when spoken to, taking an increased interest in other people but not knowing how to interact with them, repetition of words and phrases heard, but not using them in standard conversation, repetitive actions, difficulty adapting to routine changes, and having unusual reactions to sensory stimuli (smell, taste, sound, feel, etc.), among others.
An autism diagnosis can be challenging since there are no medical tests to detect the disorder. Physicians make a diagnosis by spending time observing a child’s behavior and development. Though sometimes earlier, an autism diagnosis by an experienced professional is considered very reliable by the time a child is two years old. Unfortunately, many children go undiagnosed until much later, delaying important early educational, behavioral, and social interventions.