Understanding Autism

All children struggle with social, emotional or communication skills occasionally – learning to share with others, expressing fears and adapting to change can vex any young person. But when such struggles impair one’s everyday life, it may signal an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is estimated nearly one in 150 8-year-old children may have an ASD, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of several U.S. communities.

Defined as developmental disabilities that cause significant problems with social interaction and communication, ASDs include autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). All of the ASDs share similar symptoms, but the severity and initial onset may differ (the symptoms may appear any time before age 3). People with an ASD may have unusual ways of paying attention, learning, thinking and reacting to stimuli. Signs may include:

  • Makes poor eye contact
  • Appears not to hear you at times or respond to his or her own name
  • Avoids close personal contact
  • Seems to be unaware of others’ feelings
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Begins talking later than other children and/or loses the ability to say words or sentences
  • Uses an abnormal tone or rhythm in speech
  • Has trouble starting or maintaining a conversation
  • Repeats words or phrases and movements, such as rocking or spinning
  • Insists on specific routines or rituals and objects to changes
  • Moves constantly
  • Fixates on parts of an object
  • Displays unusual sensitivity to light, sound and touch

Living with ASD

Aside from making social interaction difficult, ASD can affect other aspects of life, such as work and health. Sufferers may struggle to obtain or keep a job due to inappropriate comments, trouble adapting to change and even poor grooming. Young people with ASD are often very literal, naïve and overly trusting, which may make them more susceptible to bullying and exploitation.

Early Intervention Can Help

Experts have yet to determine a cause of autism spectrum disorders, although there is no evidence routine immunizations or preservatives in vaccines are a cause or trigger. While there is no test to detect ASD, doctors look for symptoms of the disorders during standard well-child visits, often starting at 18 months using the M-CHAT screening questionnaire. If the developmental screenings reveal any signs of ASD, a more comprehensive evaluation can help diagnose the condition.

If you think your child may have an autism spectrum disorder, talk to your doctor. He or she can start the evaluation process and refer you to a specialist, if necessary. 

To find a doctor or schedule an appointment visit Steward DoctorFinder™ or call 1-800-488-5959.

To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.