What is Autism?

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The Centers for Disease Control describes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a developmental disability that can significantly impact social skills, communication, and behavior. Individuals with ASD typically do not appear physically different, but they may exhibit unique ways of interacting, communicating, and learning. Their cognitive abilities can vary widely, from highly skilled to severely impaired. The level of daily support needed can also vary greatly among individuals with ASD.

ASD now encompasses conditions previously diagnosed separately, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome, under one umbrella term.

Symptoms and Indicators

Individuals with ASD often experience challenges in social interaction, emotional expression, and communication. They might exhibit repetitive behaviors and prefer consistency in their daily routines. Their learning styles, attention, and responses can also differ from typical patterns. Symptoms of ASD typically emerge in early childhood and persist throughout life.

Signs of ASD in children and adults may include:

  • Not using gestures, such as pointing, to express interest
  • Ignoring objects pointed out by others
  • Difficulty in social interaction or lack of interest in people
  • Avoiding eye contact and preferring solitude
  • Challenges in understanding or expressing emotions
  • Varying preferences for physical contact
  • Seeming unresponsive to verbal cues while reacting to other sounds
  • Strong interest in others but difficulty in communication and social play
  • Repeating words or phrases, either imitatively or habitually
  • Non-standard methods of expressing needs
  • Not engaging in imaginative play
  • Repeatedly performing the same actions
  • Struggling with changes in routine
  • Unusual sensory responses to stimuli
  • Regression in previously acquired skills.

What does the CDC say about Autism?

The CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Click the boxes below to learn what the CDC says about ASD.

Identifying Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be challenging as it lacks a definitive medical test, such as a blood test, for diagnosis. Instead, physicians assess the child’s developmental and behavioral patterns to determine the presence of ASD.

ASD can potentially be identified as early as 18 months. By the age of 2, a diagnosis made by a skilled professional is generally regarded as highly dependable. Yet, a definitive diagnosis often comes much later for many children. This postponement in diagnosis can result in a delay in receiving early intervention, which is crucial for children with ASD.

At present, there is no known cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, studies indicate that early intervention treatments can significantly enhance a child’s developmental progress. These early intervention services are aimed at children from birth to 3 years of age (36 months), focusing on developing vital skills. They may encompass therapies to assist the child in developing speech, mobility, and social interaction capabilities. Consequently, if you suspect your child might have ASD or any developmental issues, it is crucial to consult with your child’s healthcare provider promptly.

Children who have not been formally diagnosed with ASD might still be eligible for early intervention treatments. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children younger than 3 years (36 months) who are potentially at risk of developmental delays can qualify for these services. These are available through an early intervention system in each state, where you can request an evaluation for your child.

Furthermore, specific symptom treatments, like speech therapy for language delays, often do not require a formal ASD diagnosis before beginning.

The full range of causes for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remains unknown, but it is believed to arise from multiple sources, leading to various types of ASD. A combination of factors, including environmental, biological, and genetic influences, may increase a child’s likelihood of developing ASD.

It is widely accepted among experts that genetics play a key role as a risk factor in the development of ASD. The risk is higher for children who have a sibling diagnosed with ASD. Additionally, individuals with specific genetic or chromosomal disorders, like fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis, are more prone to developing ASD.

Certain medications prescribed during pregnancy, namely valproic acid and thalidomide, have been associated with a heightened risk of ASD. Research suggests that the critical window for the development of ASD is around the time before, during, and immediately after birth. Furthermore, children of older parents face an increased risk of ASD.

ASD remains a critical issue in public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with families impacted by ASD, are dedicated to uncovering the causes of this disorder. Gaining a deeper understanding of what predisposes an individual to ASD is crucial. To this end, the CDC is conducting one of the most extensive studies in the U.S., named the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED). This study investigates various potential risk factors for ASD, encompassing genetic, environmental, pregnancy-related, and behavioral factors.

ASD affects individuals across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, it is observed to be approximately four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.

For more than ten years, the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network has been tracking the prevalence of ASD among children in the United States. This monitoring has provided substantial insights into the number of U.S. children affected by ASD. Continuously employing these tracking methods over time is vital to understand the evolving trends and learn more about the nature of the disorder.


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