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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors. The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms are different in each person.

ASD is usually first diagnosed in childhood with many of the most-obvious signs presenting around 2-3 years old, but some children with autism develop normally until toddlerhood when they stop acquiring or lose previously gained skills.  According to the CDC, one in 59 children is estimated to have autism.  Autism spectrum disorder is also three to four times more common in boys than in girls, and many girls with ASD exhibit less obvious signs compared to boys. Autism is a lifelong condition. However, many children diagnosed with ASD go on to live independent, productive, and fulfilling lives. The information here focuses primarily on children and adolescents.

Characteristics of autism spectrum disorder fall into two categories.

Social interaction and communication problems: including difficulties in normal back-and-forth conversation, reduced sharing of interests or emotions, challenges in understanding or responding to social cues such as eye contact and facial expressions, deficits in developing/maintaining/understanding relationships (trouble making friends), and others.
Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities: hand-flapping and toe-walking, playing with toys in an uncommon way (such as lining up cars or flipping objects), speaking uniquely (such as using odd patterns or pitches in speaking or, having significant need for a predictable routine or structure, exhibiting intense interests in activities that are uncommon for a similarly aged child, experiencing the sensory aspects of the world unusually or extremely (such as indifference to pain/temperature, excessive smelling/touching of objects, fascination with lights and movement, being overwhelmed with loud noises, etc), and others. 

Also, while many people with autism have normal intelligence, many others have mild or significant intellectual delays. Additionally, people with ASD are at greater risk for some medical conditions such as sleep problems, seizures, and mental illnesses.

While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children.

Some children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty learning, and some have signs of lower than normal intelligence. Other children with the disorder have normal to high intelligence, they learn quickly, yet have trouble communicating and applying what they know in everyday life and adjusting to social situations.

Because of the unique mixture of symptoms in each child, severity can sometimes be difficult to determine. It's generally based on the level of impairments and how they impact the ability to function.



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