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Autistic Disorder


What is autistic disorder?

Autistic disorder (also called autism; more recently described as “mindblindedness”) is a neurological and developmental disorder that usually appears during the first three years of life. A child with autism appears to live in his/her own world, showing little interest in others, and a lack of social awareness. The focus of an autistic child is a consistent routine and includes an interest in repeating odd and peculiar behaviors. Autistic children often have problems in communication, avoid eye contact, and show limited attachment to others.

Autism can prevent a child from forming relationships with others (in part, due to an inability to interpret facial expressions or emotions). A child with autism may resist cuddling, play alone, be resistant to change, and/or have delayed speech development. Persons with autism tend to exhibit repeated body movements (such as flapping hands or rocking) and have unusual attachments to objects. However, many persons with autism excel consistently on certain mental tasks (i.e., counting, measuring, art, music, memory).

What causes autism?

The cause of autism is not known. Research suggests that autism is a genetic condition. It is believed that several genes are involved in the development of autism. Research studies in autism have found a variety of abnormalities in the brain structure and chemicals in the brain; however, there have been no consistent findings. One theory is the possibility that autistic disorder is a behavioral syndrome that includes several distinct conditions. However, parenting behaviors are not the cause or a contributing factor to the cause or causes of autism.

Treatment for autism:

Specialized behavioral and educational programs are designed to treat autism. Behavioral therapy is used to teach social skills, motor skills and cognitive (thinking) skills. Behavior modification is also useful in reducing or eliminating maladaptive behaviors. Individualized treatment planning for behavioral therapy is important as autistic children vary greatly in their behavioral needs. Intensive behavior therapy during early childhood and home-based approaches training and involving parents are considered to produce the best results.

Special education programs that are highly structured focus on developing social skills, speech, language, self-care, and job skills. Medication is also helpful in treating some symptoms of autism in some children. Mental health professionals provide parent counseling, social skills training, and individual therapy. They also help families identify and participate in treatment programs based on an individual child’s treatment needs. Specific treatment will be determined by your child’s physician based on:

  • your child’s age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disorder
  • your child’s symptoms
  • your child’s tolerance for specific medications or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disorder
  • your opinion or preference