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Autism information page

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Autism: The basics

There are many questions out there about autism that people have -- questions like What is autism?, Is there are a treatment?, and What is the prognosis?. Here is some information to help.

What is autism?

Autism (sometimes called "classical autism") is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Other ASDs include Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and "pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified" (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).There are three distinctive behaviors that typically characterize autism.

  1. Autistic children have difficulties with social interaction,
  2. problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and
  3. repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests.

These behaviors can range in impact from mild to disabling.The hallmark feature of autism is impaired social interaction. Parents are usually the first to notice symptoms of autism in their child. As early as infancy, a baby with autism may be unresponsive to people, or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time. A child with autism may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.Many children with autism have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive to sensations such as sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation. These unusual sensitivities may contribute to behavioral symptoms such as a resistance to being cuddled or hugged.

Is there any treatment?

There is no "cure" for autism. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills. Doctors often prescribe an antidepressant medication to handle symptoms of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anti-psychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more of the anticonvulsant drugs. Stimulant drugs, such as those used for children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), are sometimes used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that target the core symptoms of autism: impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and interests. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

What is the prognosis?

For many children, autism symptoms improve with treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives. Children whose language skills regress early in life, usually before the age of 3, appear to be at risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. During adolescence, some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioral problems. Parents of these children should be ready to adjust treatment for their child as needed.

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