Autism (Diseases and Disorders)

About Autism
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About autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to. The M-CHAT-R asks 20 questions about your toddler's behavior to screen for autism. Get the results immediately.

Some autism traits, such as poor social skills and sensory sensitivities, overlap with those of other conditions. For instance, people with autism and those with schizophrenia both have trouble picking up on social cues.

Is autism one or multiple disorders?

When a person presents with one of these common traits, her doctor may simply assign to her the most plausible diagnosis. ADHD traits may also mask or be mistaken for those of autism — and delay when a child receives an autism diagnosis. Autism diagnosis may be particularly tricky in people with intellectual disability or severe language delays. What can studies of co-occurring conditions reveal about the biology of autism?

Some of these conditions may share biological mechanisms with autism. For instance, a study published this year revealed that gene-expression patterns in the brains of people with autism are similar to those in people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder 6. People with these conditions may also share genetic variants and traits, such as language difficulties or aggression.

Signs of Autism

In other cases, the relationship to autism may be multifaceted. For instance, about one in three people with autism has epilepsy — and people with epilepsy are at an eightfold risk of autism compared with the general population.

Signs and symptoms

The connection may be partly genetic, but it is also possible that early seizures pave the way for certain autism features. By joining the discussion, you agree to our privacy policy. Spectrum: Autism Research News. About Subscribe. News The latest developments in autism research. See All in News. Listen to this story:.

References: Soke G. Autism Dev. Malow Semin. MMWR Surveill.

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Science , Abstract. Sensory problems — Many children with autism spectrum disorders either underreact or overreact to sensory stimuli. At times they may ignore people speaking to them, even to the point of appearing deaf. However, at other times they may be disturbed by even the softest sounds. Sudden noises such as a ringing telephone can be upsetting, and they may respond by covering their ears and making repetitive noises to drown out the offending sound. Children on the autism spectrum also tend to be highly sensitive to touch and to texture.

They may cringe at a pat on the back or the feel of certain fabric against their skin. Emotional difficulties — Children with autism spectrum disorders may have difficulty regulating their emotions or expressing them appropriately. For instance, your child may start to yell, cry, or laugh hysterically for no apparent reason.

When stressed, he or she may exhibit disruptive or even aggressive behavior breaking things, hitting others, or harming him or herself.

The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities also notes that kids with ASD may be unfazed by real dangers like moving vehicles or heights, yet be terrified of harmless objects such as a stuffed animal. Uneven cognitive abilities — ASD occurs at all intelligence levels. However, even kids with normal to high intelligence often have unevenly developed cognitive skills. Not surprisingly, verbal skills tend to be weaker than nonverbal skills. In addition, children with Autism spectrum disorder typically do well on tasks involving immediate memory or visual skills, while tasks involving symbolic or abstract thinking are more difficult.

The most common savant skills involve mathematical calculations, calendars, artistic and musical abilities, and feats of memory. For example, an autistic savant might be able to multiply large numbers in his or her head, play a piano concerto after hearing it once, or quickly memorize complex maps. The road to an ASD diagnosis can be difficult and time-consuming. In fact, it is often two to three years after the first symptoms of ASD are noticed before an official diagnosis is made.

What is autism?

This is due in large part to concerns about labeling or incorrectly diagnosing the child. In order to determine whether your child has autism spectrum disorder or another developmental condition, clinicians look carefully at the way your child interacts with others, communicates, and behaves. Diagnosis is based on the patterns of behavior that are revealed. If you are concerned that your child has autism spectrum disorder and developmental screening confirms the risk, ask your family doctor or pediatrician to refer you immediately to an autism specialist or team of specialists for a comprehensive evaluation.

Since the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is complicated, it is essential that you meet with experts who have training and experience in this highly specialized area. Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a brief process.

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Medical exam — The medical evaluation includes a general physical, a neurological exam, lab tests, and genetic testing. Your child will undergo this full screening to determine the cause of his or her developmental problems and to identify any co-existing conditions.

Autism health — Conditions that accompany autism, explained

Hearing test — Since hearing problems can result in social and language delays, they need to be excluded before an Autism Spectrum Disorder can be diagnosed. Your child will undergo a formal audiological assessment where he or she is tested for any hearing impairments, as well as any other hearing issues or sound sensitivities that sometimes co-occur with autism.


Observation — Developmental specialists will observe your child in a variety of settings to look for unusual behavior associated with the Autism Spectrum Disorder. They may watch your child playing or interacting with other people.

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Lead screening — Because lead poisoning can cause autistic-like symptoms, the National Center for Environmental Health recommends that all children with developmental delays be screened for lead poisoning. These tests can be helpful not only in diagnosing autism, but also for determining what type of treatment your child needs:. Cognitive testing — Your child may be given a standardized intelligence test or an informal cognitive assessment. This may include testing social, nonverbal, and verbal skills, as well as the ability to perform daily tasks such as dressing and feeding him or herself.

Autism Spectrum Disorders — What should you know?