Autism Awareness: A Medical Overview

In the United States, autism cases are growing at a rate that causes concern in parents. The most recent statistics show that roughly 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism or an autism spectrum disorder, which affects children regardless of ethnicity or social class. In general, boys are at greater risk of getting autism than girls; it is estimated that 1 in 42 boys has the disorder. Although there are many myths associated with autism, scientists and the medical community believe that both genetics and the environment are thought to cause the condition. Both parents and those without children may find it beneficial to understand the basics regarding autism, particularly if they have a child or relatives who are affected by it.

What Is Autism?

"Autism" is a term that is often used in reference to a series or family of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders, or ASD. It is defined as a developmental disability or disorder that affects brain function and the development of social and communication skills. "Autism" may also refer to classic or traditional autism, which is one of the disorders in the autism spectrum. A person with autism may have unusual interests, behaviors, and reactions. The condition is a lifelong one that is typically diagnosed during childhood.

Signs of Autism

The signs and symptoms of autism vary, but there are some that are common for most individuals who have this disorder. These signs include difficulty maintaining eye contact and understanding the reactions or feelings of others. Autistic individuals may dislike touch and prefer being alone, making them seem detached or aloof. They may lack the ability to understand the feelings and reactions of others, and they may not care about the accomplishments or interests of others. Learning to speak at a slower rate or learning to do so at a later age than other children is one of the main signs of autism. Never learning to speak may also indicate autism. Autistic people tend to take things literally and speak in a repetitive manner. Other signs include repetitive body movements, including rocking of the body, for example, a desire for routine and orderliness, and little interest in play, although they may develop an interest in things such as numbers, video games, or moving parts of toys. Babies or toddlers may show signs such as not responding to the sound of their names or familiar voices and having no response to cuddling or desire for adults to comfort or pick them up.

Types of Autism

There are several different types of autism or ASD. These disorders include autistic disorder or classic autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Rett syndrome. Rett syndrome primarily affects girls, with onset beginning after a period of normal development, usually around the age of 6 months. At this time, they begin to lose the skills that they had developed, such as crawling, and suffer from an increasing loss of muscle movement. Children with Rett syndrome may also experience seizures and suffer intellectually. Children with childhood disintegrative disorder develop normally until they reach 3 or 4 years of age. At this time, they begin to lose certain functions and skills, such as their motor, social, and language skills. These changes are typically dramatic, as they occur suddenly over a few months.

PDD-NOS is a mild form of autism in which a child displays difficulty with interacting and playing with others as well as communicating. Children with PDD-NOS are typically more social than other children with autism. When children have classic autism, they have difficulty with social interactions, are resistant to change, and may also have some form of intellectual disability. Asperger's syndrome is similar to classic autism in terms of social interactions and communication; however, children with Asperger's have an intelligence level that is average if not above average. It is often not diagnosed until later when language skills develop and certain speech patterns are recognized. Children with Asperger's may also find it difficult to concentrate.


There are many different types of treatment for children with autism. Some of the more common methods of treatments include play-based, behavior, speech-language, educational, or physical therapies. In many cases, combining two or more therapies may be the most beneficial for the child. In cases where medication is used, it is generally for the treatment of symptoms or conditions that are related to autism. These conditions may include anxiety, depression, or hyperactivity. Ultimately, doctors will tailor treatments to the child and the specific type of autism.

How to Help

In addition to getting treatment, there are things that parents and family members of autistic children can do to help them on a daily basis. First, a person must learn about autism and understand it to the best of their ability, which means asking questions of medical providers or attending support groups. Second, it is important to understand and learn the best ways to communicate with or better understand autistic children. Often, there may be nonverbal cues that a child transmits that can indicate things such as tiredness. In addition to the nonverbal cues, parents or guardians should also pay attention to the things that act as triggers for tantrums or other disruptive behavior. For example, a child may feel misunderstood, or they may respond to a sensory sensitivity issue such as certain smell or sound. Creating a schedule and being consistent is also important and can help reduce or prevent disruptions that can have a negative impact on them. Creating an organized space that can facilitate calm and a sense of safety within the home is also important for children with autism.

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Burt Cancaster, Author

Vitality Medical
7910 South 3500 East, Suite C
Salt Lake City, UT 84121
(801) 733-4449
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