Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Many people with autism also have sensory issues. These can include aversions to certain sights, sounds and other sensations.
A combination of genetic and environmental factors influence the development of autism, and autism often is accompanied by medical issues such as:
Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children.
Specialized healthcare providers diagnose autism using a checklist of criteria in the two categories below. They also assess symptom severity. Autism’s severity scale reflects how much support a person needs for daily function. The symptoms are:
Social communication challenges
Restricted, repetitive behaviors
Many people with autism have sensory issues. These typically involve over- or under-sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells, pain and other stimuli.
Autism is also associated with high rates of certain physical and mental health conditions.
What Causes Autism?
We know that there’s no one cause of autism. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental, influences. These influences appear to increase the risk that a child will develop autism. However, it’s important to keep in mind that increased risk is not the same as cause.
Prenatal vitamins containing folic acid
No effect on risk
Vaccines do not cause autism.
One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.
The timing and severity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months. In others, symptoms become obvious as late as age 2 or 3. Not all children with autism show all the signs. Many children who don’t have autism show a few. That’s why professional evaluation is crucial.
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