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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Disorder

What is autism spectrum disorder? — Autism spectrum disorder is a brain disorder that impairs a person's behavior and ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism spectrum disorder can be mild or severe. No one knows what causes it.
What are the key symptoms of autism spectrum disorder? — To be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a child must show signs of the disorder in early childhood. Sometimes the symptoms do not show up until the child is in school. The signs of autism spectrum disorder include problems in 2 key areas:
Social interaction and social communication – Children with autism spectrum disorder have trouble relating to others. They often don't know how to read facial expressions, and they tend to avoid eye contact. Plus, they often dislike being touched. Many young children with autism spectrum disorder prefer not to play or interact with others.
Children with autism spectrum disorder often take much longer than other children to learn to speak. Some never learn to speak. But speech is not the only thing that's affected. The parents of children with autism spectrum disorder sometimes think the children are deaf. But deaf children who cannot speak look for other ways to communicate, such as through hand motions. Children with autism spectrum disorder do not. They do not seem to care whether they can communicate.
Limited interests – Children with autism spectrum disorder tend to show intense interest in certain things. But they show little interest in anything else. Young children might get completely focused on things that spin or shine and ignore most everything else. Older children might become preoccupied with 1 topic, such as the weather, numbers, or sports. Children with autism spectrum disorder also tend to have rituals that they must follow exactly. For example, they might need to eat particular foods in a specific order, or to take the same route from one place to another – every time. If these habits get disrupted, the child gets upset.
What other things should parents watch for? — To learn about other signs of autism spectrum disorder, see the table (table 1).
When should I take my child to a doctor or nurse? — Take your child to a doctor or nurse if you see any of the signs of autism spectrum disorder listed above or in the table. You might also want to have your child's hearing tested. That way you can find out whether hearing problems are causing some of the symptoms you see.
If the doctor or nurse suspects autism spectrum disorder, he or she will probably send you to see a team of experts who know how to spot the disorder. The members of this team will:
Ask you lots of questions about your child and your family
Test your child's abilities in lots of ways
Make sure that the child's symptoms are not caused by another problem
If your child does have autism spectrum disorder, it's important that he or she be diagnosed as soon as possible. Some of the problems caused by autism spectrum disorder can be improved if they are caught early.
How is autism treated? — The right treatment for autism spectrum disorder depends on the age of the child, how severe the disorder is, and whether the child has any other medical problems. Autism spectrum disorder cannot be cured, but children are often able to overcome many of the problems it causes.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15345 Version 6.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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