Autism spectrum disorders are common in the pediatric population, however not as well known about as other conditions such as diabetes, spinal bifida, or Down syndrome. A recent study of a U.S. metropolitan area show that 3.4 of every 1,000 children 3-10 years old had autism; the results of this study suggest a need for earlier and more accurate screening for the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.

Experts agree that earlier diagnosis of the disorder and treatment interventions provides the best results toward reducing symptoms and increasing a child’s ability to grow and learn new skills. Many times pediatricians, family physicians, teachers and parents dismiss the early warning signs of autism spectrum disorder and think the child is just a little slow and will eventually catch up or overcome the slowness.

All children with autistic spectrum disorders demonstrate deficits in:

• Social interaction
• Verbal and nonverbal communication
• Repetitive behaviors or interests

The signs and symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder can be mild to severe and will be present in each individual child differently. For example, a child may have no trouble learning to read, but show extremely poor social interactions. Each child, who has autism spectrum disorder, will display communication, social and behavioral patterns that are individual to them, but fits into the overall diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Social Symptoms

Infants are social beings very early after birth. They may stare at people, turn their heads towards voices, and grasp hold of a finger, coo and smile. Children with autism spectrum disorder seem to have a lot of difficulty learning to engage in the give-and-take of everyday human interactions. In the first few months of life, many children with autism spectrum disorder do not interact and they avoid eye contact. They do not seem interested in other people and often prefer to be alone.

Research suggests that children with autism spectrum disorders are attached to their parents, but their expression of the attachment is unusual and difficult to understand. The parents may feel as if the child is not attached to them at all. Children with autism spectrum disorder may resist hugs and cuddling.

Communication Symptoms

A typical one year old toddler says words, turns when he hears his name, points when he wants a toy. Some children with autism spectrum disorder remain mute throughout their lives. Some children may learn to communicate using pictures or with sign language. The children who do speak often use language in unusual ways. They may speak only single words or repeat the same phrase over and over.

Mildly affected children may show slight delays in language, or even have unusually large vocabularies, but have a lot of difficulty sustaining a conversation. They may carry on a monologue about a favorite subject and give no one else a chance to speak. Another difficulty experienced by children with autism spectrum disorder is the inability to understand body language, tone of voice, or phrases of speech.

It is also difficult for others to understand what ASD children are saying and what their body language says. Gestures and facial expressions rarely match what the child with autism spectrum disorder is actually saying. Tone of voice may be a high-pitched, sing-song, or flat, robot-like voice. Those who have relatively good language skills may speak like little adults.

This difficulty with language and meaningful gestures often cause children with autism spectrum disorder to be at a loss to let others know what they need. They may just simply scream or grab what they want, until they are taught better ways to express their needs. Autistic children who grow into adults become more and more aware of their difficulties in understanding others and in being understood. This often results in anxiousness or depression.

Repetitive behavior symptoms

Children with autistic spectrum disorders usually appear physically normal with good muscle control, however, odd repetitive motions differentiates them from other children. The behaviors range from extreme and very apparent to more subtle. Examples are autistic children who spend a lot of time repeatedly flapping their arms or walking on their toes.

Children with autistic spectrum disorder demand absolute consistency in their environment. Any change in routine of mealtimes, dressing, taking a bath, going to school at a certain time or by a certain route, can be extremely disturbing to the child with autistic spectrum disorder. They may spend hours lining up their cars or trains in a particular way, rather than rolling them over the floor in normal pretend play. If one of the toys is moved, the child with autistic spectrum disorder may become tremendously upset.

Repetitive behaviors also take on the form of persistent, intense preoccupations with a certain subject like science or a great interest in numbers and symbols. A child with autistic spectrum disorder might be obsessed with learning all about how the ceiling fan works, a bus schedule, or lighthouses.

Other problems that may accompany autistic spectrum disorder include:

• Sensory problems
• Mental retardation
• Seizures
• Fragile X syndrome
• Tuberous Sclerosis

Sensory problems: If sensory information is incorrect a child’s experiences of the world can be confusing. Many children with autistic spectrum disorder are painfully sensitive to certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Certain sounds like the telephone ringing or a sudden storm can cause these children to cover their ears and scream. I knew a 3 year old who would scream and cry when the telephone rang, and repeatedly ask: “What’s that?”

Mental retardation: Many children with autistic spectrum disorder have some mental impairment as well. They may be normal in some areas, but weak in other areas. They may do well on parts of a test that measure visual skills, but not so well on language subtests.

Seizures: One out of every four children with autistic spectrum disorder develops seizures.

Fragile X syndrome: Is the most common inherited form of mental retardation. Fragile X syndrome affects about two to five percent of people with autistic spectrum disorder.

Tuberous Sclerosis: Is a rare genetic disorder that manifests as benign tumors in the brain and other vital organs. One to 4 percent of people with autistic spectrum disorder also have tuberous sclerosis.

If you have a child or know of a child who displays the signs and symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder, remember that early diagnosis and early appropriate treatment interventions is a crucial aspect to that child’s overall well being and will provide greater opportunities for personal growth and independence as an adult.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Disclaimer: *This article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any kind of a health problem. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Always consult with your health care provider about any kind of a health problem and especially before beginning any kind of an exercise routine.

This article is FREE to publish with the resource box. Article written 5-2007

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