By Capt. Charishlyn T. Weintraub | Army Public Health Nurse, Fort Carson Public Health
What is autism?
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities caused by a problem with the brain. People diagnosed with ASD may have significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Autism is present from birth but cannot be diagnosed in the first few months until the child further develops.
People with ASD often do not have a specific look that sets them apart, but they may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives, while others may need less.
How common is ASD?
Recent statistics estimate that as many as one in 68 children in the U.S. may be diagnosed as having ASD. Approximately 24,000 children are diagnosed as having ASD each year, with an estimate of 500,000 children, adolescents and young adults from birth through 21 years of age with ASD. Autism spectrum disorder is more common in boys than girls and there is no evidence that suggests or supports the notion that vaccines cause ASD.
What are some common characteristics of autism?
People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and may not want to change their daily routines. Many people with ASD have different ways of learning, paying attention or reacting to things. Signs of Autism begin during early childhood and typically last throughout life.
Common characteristics children or adults with ASD might have include:
- not point at objects to show interest; for example, not point at an airplane flying over
- not look at objects when another person points at them
- have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
- avoid eye contact and want to be alone
- have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
- appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
- be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play or relate to others
- repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
- have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
- not play “pretend” games; for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll
- repeat actions over and over
- have trouble adapting when a routine changes
- have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel or sound
- lose skills they once had; for example, stop saying words they were using
What are treatments or interventions for autism?
There are many different types of treatments available and can generally be broken down into the following categories:
- behavior and communication approaches like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
- dietary approaches
- complementary and alternative medicine
There are no medications to cure ASD or even treat the main symptoms. However, there are medications to help some people with related symptoms. For example, medication might help manage high-energy levels, inability to focus, depression or seizures. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.
Why are early intervention services important?
Research shows early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child’s development, as these services help children learn important skills from birth to 3 years old. Some of these services include therapy to help with talking, waling and interacting with others.
Any child with developmental delays can benefit from these services. It is important for parents who suspect their child has autism or developmental delays to talk with their child’s doctor. While early intervention is extremely important, intervention at any age can be helpful.