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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Autism - Topic Overview

Autism is a brain disorder that often makes it hard to communicate with and relate to others. With autism, the different areas of the brain fail to work together.

Most people with autism will always have some trouble relating to others. But early diagnosis and treatment have helped more and more people who have autism to reach their full potential.

Autism tends to run in families, so experts think it may be something that you inherit. Scientists are trying to find out exactly which genes may be responsible for passing down autism in families.

Other studies are looking at whether autism can be caused by other medical problems or by something in your child's surroundings.

False claims in the news have made some parents concerned about a link between autism and vaccines. But studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. It's important to make sure that your child gets all childhood vaccines. They help keep your child from getting serious diseases that can cause harm or even death.

Symptoms almost always start before a child is 3 years old. Usually, parents first notice that their toddler has not started talking yet and is not acting like other children the same age. But it is not unusual for a child with autism to start to talk at the same time as other children the same age, then lose his or her language skills.

Symptoms of autism include:

  • A delay in learning to talk, or not talking at all. A child may seem to be deaf, even though hearing tests are normal.
  • Repeated and overused types of behavior, interests, and play. Examples include repeated body rocking, unusual attachments to objects, and getting very upset when routines change.

There is no "typical" person with autism. People can have many different kinds of behaviors, from mild to severe. Parents often say that their child with autism prefers to play alone and does not make eye contact with other people.

Autism may also include other problems:

  • Many children with autism have below-normal intelligence.
  • Teenagers with autism often become depressed and have a lot of anxiety, especially if they have average or above-average intelligence.
  • Some children get a seizure disorder such as epilepsy by their teen years.

There are guidelines your doctor will use to see if your child has symptoms of autism. The guidelines put symptoms into categories such as:

  • Social interactions and relationships. For example, a child may have trouble making eye contact. People with autism may have a hard time understanding someone else's feelings, such as pain or sadness.
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication. For example, a child may never speak. Or he or she may often repeat a certain phrase over and over.
  • Limited interests in activities or play. For example, younger children often focus on parts of toys rather than playing with the whole toy. Older children and adults may be fascinated by certain topics, like trading cards or license plates.

Your child may also have a hearing test and some other tests to make sure that problems are not caused by some other condition.

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