What Is Autism?

17 Dec by Transition USA

What Is Autism?

The number of children being diagnosed with autism is on the rise.  Yet, many parents struggle to understand what autism is or where to get help. Programs like Transitions work with autistic youth in skill building for academics, job readiness, and independence.  But not everyone has access to such programs.  Thankfully, there are things parents can do to help. If you have a child with autism, learning about what autism is, and it’s unique challenges, is a great place to start.

What is Autism?

Autism is a neurobehavioral disorder that affects language skills, communication, and social interaction.  Autism also contributes to individuals establishing repetitive and rigid behavioral patterns. Because of the wide-range of symptoms, autism is now categorized under the umbrella term – autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximates 1 in 59 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.  Autism seems to occur more in males than females, but can affect anyone (regardless of socioeconomic status, race, religion, etc.).

Different Types of Autism

Autism is one of five disorders now classified as an autism spectrum disorder.  The other disorders also affect behavioral and communication patterns.  The other four disorders include:

  • Rett Syndrome
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) – includes atypical autism
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder

What Causes Autism

There is no single identified cause for autism spectrum disorder.  Nonetheless, research points to abnormalities in brain structure or function as being a strong contributing factor. but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Researchers are exploring other possible factors as well, including heredity, genetics and underlying medical problems.

In many families, there is a pattern of autism.  There has yet to be a gene identified as the gene that specifically causes autism.  Because of this, researchers are looking for any irregularities in the genetic code that might cause children to inherit autism. Studies also show some children are born more susceptible than others to having autism.  Yet it remains unknown as to what “triggers” the autism to develop in some and not others. 

Other autism research centers on exploring physical/medical problems during pregnancy, or environmental factors such as viruses or chemical exposures that might contribute to the development of autism.

Symptoms and Signs of Autism

Symptoms of autism usually show up within the first three years of a child’s life. But because of the wide range of symptoms connected to what autism is, each child may present differently.  Yet, all autistic youth will be affected in areas of communication and social interaction.  This may look like:

  • unusual speech patterns and/or tones (sometimes described as sounding robot-like)
  • avoiding eye contact with others
  • frequent repetition of words/phrases/sentences
  • difficulty maintaining conversations
  • lack of awareness of social cues
  • not responding to their name
  • late development of speech skills
  • inability (or decreased ability) to understand feelings and express feelings in Young people with autism also often display repetitive or unusual behaviors such as:
  • becomingconsumed or obsessed with a particular subject or topic
  • becoming preoccupied with objects, such as a household item or toy or household object
  • arranging objects in extremely ordered ways
  • engaging in repetitive motions, such as rocking side to side

If you think your child may have autism, or notice any of these signs of autism in your child, there is support out there.

To learn more about what autism is or to find out about our Transitions programs, contact us at 518-775-5384.

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