Jenny McCarthy, Dan Marino and Sylvester Stallone are all celebrities who shine the media spotlight on autism. One in 110 children receive the diagnosis annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Boys are more likely to suffer than girls, but the differences end there. Autism occurs in every ethnic, racial and socioeconomic group. All children are screened for autism at their 18-month wellness checks, according to American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics generally refers to autism as autism spectrum disorder because symptoms vary among individuals. Aspergers, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder are also on the spectrum. These individuals share challenges in the areas of social skills and communication.
Communication and social skills, or lack thereof, are primary indicators of autism. While most children start to string words together in two- or three-word phrases by 20 months of age, autistic children might not even gesture or respond to their names. In fact, they often fail to respond to external stimuli at all, according to the CDC.
While many 20-month-olds suffer tantrums as a matter of course, autistic children suffer acute episodes, made worse by the fact that they often refuse physical contact and are unable to communicate their feelings. Transitions often trigger outbursts, as autistic children tend to require more time to adjust to their surroundings. Autism might also be to blame if the 20-month-old does not demonstrate an interest in imaginative play, such as dress-up or doll feeding.
Autism’s cause is unknown, but theories abound. As explained by the Autism Research Institute, causes might be biological, dietary, environmental, related to the current CDC-mandated vaccination schedule or a combination of all four.
Conventional doctors usually prescribe medication for autism, but a 20-month-old baby is too young to receive such treatment. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, older children who do receive medication do so off label, because the USDA has not approved many of these powerful medications for use in children. The NIMH advocates early intervention in the form of behavioral treatment that focuses on communication and social skills. Anecdotal evidence supporting the efficacy of a gluten- and casein- free diet coupled with vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements abounds, but, as the NIMH notes, such dietary interventions are not yet supported by clinical research trials.
Autism is a condition that varies in severity among individuals. It might be a lifelong hindrance for some, while others experience almost complete relief from symptoms with the appropriate treatment. Early and frequent contact with a doctor or alternative health care practitioner is crucial for a positive outcome.