Autism is identified as one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in the United States. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, estimates indicate that about 1 among 59 children of 8 years of age in the United States is suffering from autism. The children between 18 and 24 months need to be evaluated for ASD, throughout their regular development.

What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to neurodevelopmental disability characterized by challenges with speech, restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, social skills, nonverbal communication, interests, and activities.

Autism is a Spectrum Disorder because each person with this disorder experiences different symptoms from the other. The type of symptoms and its severity varies from person to person, while the main symptoms can be classified as difficulties in communication, social interaction and social understanding, and repetitive and restrictive behavior.

Difficulties in communication
Children with ASD have difficulties in communicating their needs and desires as well as sharing things with others.
Sometimes they respond slowly to their name being called, but may not respond to other sounds like a car horn or other sounds given for attention.
They start talking late and may not be able to start or continue a conversation with others. They may talk in an abnormal tone of voice or pitch.
They don’t understand simple directions, statements, or questions.
They often get confused with the usage of pronoun, for example, refers to themself as 'you' and another person as 'I'. But, they may have a good memory for letters, songs, numbers, etc.
They take things too literally without understanding the humor, irony, or sarcasm.

Social interaction and social understanding:
Kids with autism find basic social interaction very difficult. Most of them would prefer to live in their own world detached from others and don't like to be touched, held, or cuddled.
Like other kids, they cannot keep eye contact with anyone or respond to a parent's smile or other facial expressions. They do not bring objects interesting to them to show a parent. At times, they cannot share the enjoyment with others.
They may go on talking about their favorite subject without knowing about others' interests with having those facial expressions and gestures that don't match what is being said.
Unlike other children, they don't use toys for playing real-life pretending plays or use them in creative ways.
They stay detached from others and hence are unaware of what is going around them and don't hear when others talk to him or her.
They find trouble in talking about themselves as they find it difficult to understand their different feelings.

Repetitive and Obsessive behaviors
Autism-diagnosed children are either very sensitive or not sensitive at all to the sensory inputs like lights, touch, sounds, and smells. They gaze at things or objects from different angles unusually. They may respond badly to certain sounds and might be indifferent to temperature.
They have certain routines and order in doing anything and find it difficult to change or transform it. So they get upset with the change in their routine, order, or environment.
They are very obsessed with unusual activities like repeating phrases or words and they repeat them many times during the day.
They usually do hand flapping, lining up toys, turning light switches on and off, tapping ears, etc.
Their focus is more on moving objects or parts of objects, for example, they are more interested in playing with the spinning part of a toy rather than with the whole toy or a spinning wheel.
Obsessive attitude towards some unusual objects like rubber bands, keys, light switches, etc.

The causes of autism may be genetic factors triggered by something from the external environment such as exposure to harmful chemicals, etc. It could also be due to older parents, consuming antidepressants during pregnancy, deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy, maternal infections during pregnancy, very low birth weight, and neonatal anemia.

ASD can be reliably diagnosed at around the age of two among children. Medical screening can be done by a pediatrician or a family doctor initially at their clinic. If found anything unusual about the child then the doctor may refer to the specialists. Blood tests and hearing tests can be taken for the diagnosis. The other examinations available are prolonged observations of the child's behavior and tests to see if he or she has basic learning skills, that too without any delay as per the medical research; and also, parental interviews about the child. Often it is found that a team of specialists may be needed for this diagnosis. The team may include Child Psychologists and Psychiatrists, Speech pathologists, Developmental Pediatricians, Pediatric neurologists, Audiologists, Physical therapists, Special education teachers. In some clinics, autism gets misdiagnosed with ADHD or even as nothing wrong. Hence, very careful evaluation is much essential for the right diagnosis for ASD.

There is no permanent cure for autism but there can be an improvement in their condition if diagnosed early with treatments given with special care and attention. A few medications may also be necessary to control and manage the different emotions of the child, for example, anxiety, depression, etc. Parental support is very much essential and hence counseling is given to the parents from time to time. Giving proper lifestyle and diet would help to improve the difficulties faced in day to day life. Practicing yoga and meditation regularly has seemed to increase communication skills, socializing skills, understanding skills, expressing emotions, and reducing negative emotions as well as challenging behaviors and increased body awareness and positivity towards life.

Autism is found in infancy and early childhood, causing difficulties and delays in early developmental stages. Recognizing the early symptoms of ASD can help the child in learning, growing, and coping with disabilities and in leading a better life altogether.

KION Pediatrics, Children’s Clinic Jonesboro AR, is a heavenly place for children to get evaluations done, as the kind and friendly nature of Dr. Kris and staff gives them safety, security, and hope. Book an appointment with KION Pediatrics to get the evaluations done for your child: call 870-333-5466.

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Author's Bio: 

Dr. Kris Nwokeji was born in Austin, in the state of Texas to Nigerian parents. His parents' relocation to the motherland and his incessant thirst to help children brought him to medical school at Abia State University at the young age of 16.