Autism

Alternative Names

Pervasive developmental disorder – autism

Definition of Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Autism is a physical condition linked to abnormal biology and chemistry in the brain. The exact causes of these abnormalities remain unknown, but this is a very active area of research. There are probably a combination of factors that lead to autism.

Symptoms

Most parents of autistic children suspect that something is wrong by the time the child is 18 months old and seek help by the time the child is age 2. Children with autism typically have difficulties in:

Signs and tests

All children should have routine developmental exams done by their pediatrician. Further testing may be needed if the doctor or parents are concerned. This is particularly true if a child fails to meet any of the following language milestones:

Treatment

An early, intensive, appropriate treatment program will greatly improve the outlook for most young children with autism. Most programs will build on the interests of the child in a highly structured schedule of constructive activities. Visual aids are often helpful.

Expectations (prognosis)

Autism remains a challenging condition for children and their families, but the outlook today is much better than it was a generation ago. At that time, most people with autism were placed in institutions.

Review

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 4/26/2010

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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