10 Things Everyone Should Know About Autism

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There's been a lot of discussion about Netflix's new comedy, "Atypical," which revolves around an autistic high school senior and his family. But how much do you really know about autism? Read on to learn about its prevalence, causes, symptoms and more.

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What Is Autism?

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Let’s break it down to the basics. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that usually appears during a child’s first three years of life. Autism affects the brain in a way that impairs someone’s ability to interact and communicate with others. It’s known as a “spectrum disorder” because it affects each person differently and to different degrees. For example, some people with autism can function well in school and work while others may be unable to take care of themselves.

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What are the symptoms of autism?

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Autism mainly affects a person’s ability to communicate with and relate to others. Some people may exhibit only a brief lag in speech, while others might find it extremely difficult or even impossible to talk with others. Some traits associated with autism include the inability to read nonverbal cues, becoming very upset at small breaks in routine, tantrums and expressing emotions that have no apparent connection to a given situation. Autistic people may also feel more sensitive (or less sensitive) to pain. People with autism might have a tendency toward harming themselves. These are just a few of the disorder’s possible manifestations.

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How common is autism?

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In 2012, one in 68 children in the United States were diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That’s about a 30 percent increase from the rate of one in 88 reported in 2008 and more than twice the 2000 rate of one in 150. This steep upward trend has been in progress globally since the 1990s. While it seems like an alarming rate of increase, there is no doubt that heightened awareness and more aggressive reporting have contributed enormously to the statistical rise.

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Who gets autism?

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Autism is more likely to be detected in boys than girls. About one in 42 boys is diagnosed with autism, while the same is true for one in 189 for girls. That comes down to a ratio of five boys to each girl with autism. There are other risk factors: The older a parent is at the birth of the child, the greater the risk of autism. Also, possible environmental factors include certain pregnancy complications, such as being born premature, or early, and at a low birth weight.

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When does autism start showing up in a child?

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The most obvious symptoms of autism usually show up in a child between the ages of 2 and 3. Sometimes it can even be diagnosed as early as 18 months, and certain developmental problems can be detected and treated in infancy. It’s important to be aware of signs of autism, because early intervention can make a huge difference in a child’s ability to function.

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Can vaccinations cause autism?

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You’ve most likely heard the claim that common childhood vaccinations cause autism. To be sure, there is a heated debate on the subject and there is passionate belief among some people that vaccinations cause autism. However, leading researchers in the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization do not believe there is evidence to support this claim. The CDC states explicitly that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. Thimerosal, a preservative used in many vaccines, was once under suspicion, but research concluded that the substance does not cause autism.

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How is autism diagnosed?

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There isn’t quick answer for this one. The proper diagnosis of autism requires a multidisciplinary approach. Preliminary questionnaires and other screening techniques that focus on a person’s behavior are the first step. If results indicate the possibility of autism, people often undergo a more thorough evaluation. Because the symptoms of autism overlap with other neurological, psychiatric or behavior disorders, you may need to involve neurologists, psychologists, speech therapists and other specialists. Because hearing problems can cause behaviors that resemble autism, children whose speech development is lagging should have their hearing tested.

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What causes ASD?

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Despite what you may have heard, researchers believe that ASD results from a combination of genetics and environment. However, they have not yet been able to identify the particular environmental factors that activate a genetic predisposition toward it. Scientists have isolated several genes associated with ASD, and imaging studies suggest that people with ASD may have experienced disruptions in brain development. Autism is more prevalent in children born prematurely.

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Is there a cure?

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Although there is no cure for autism, treatment can significantly close the achievement gap and improve social skills. Intensive behavioral therapy requires the whole family to participate. Sometimes treatment is administered in special centers or classrooms. And training isn’t just for the child: Parents may receive as much training or more. Someone with autism might also take medications to treat problems that occur alongside autism, such as insomnia, depression and seizures. In many cities, services are available that help autistic teens learn self-sufficiency as they transition into adulthood.

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What should I do if I worry that my child is autistic?

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First, do not delay in seeking help. Early intervention can make all the difference in a child’s future development. Your child’s pediatrician should be able to refer you to a developmental pediatrician who can guide you through the appropriate steps and suggest the best therapies. It’s important to remember that autistic children are unique individuals like everyone else. ASD presents different challenges to each individual, so it’s important to find an approach that is suited to your child’s particular needs. .

What Do YOU Think?

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Did any of this information surprise you or go against what you previously believed? Do you know anyone who has autism? Share in the comments section.

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Overview

There's been a lot of discussion about Netflix's new comedy, "Atypical," which revolves around an autistic high school senior and his family. But how much do you really know about autism? Read on to learn about its prevalence, causes, symptoms and more.

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