Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental brain disorders that are sometimes called Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). This disorder is a disability in a child’s development that is primarily seen in the area of communication and dealings with others. Each case of autism is different, and it is referred to as autism spectrum disorder since it has features that are shared by children affected by it. Autism is more common than many people believe with as many as one out of 110 children diagnosed as autistic. It affects more children than other commonly known diseases such as diabetes or Down syndrome or childhood cancer together. In the United States, about 1.5 million people are affected by the disorder. Statistics published by the U.S. Government say that cases of autism spectrum disorders are increasing by 10-17% annually, although the reason for this increase is not known.
The common factors that children who have autism display are problems with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests. The first symptom is in their interaction with parents and caregivers. For instance, rather than making eye contact, laughing, and smiling as most babies do, these children sometimes don’t respond at all to play or other stimulation. The child may not seem bonded to the parents, and this can be very hurtful for them. As the autistic child gets older, he or she may not be able to read other’s nonverbal language or to interpret facial expressions.
The second common factor of this disorder is that children show abnormal behavior in their verbal and nonverbal communication. Generally, if a child doesn’t point at objects, babble, or make gestures by the age of one year, or doesn’t say one word by 16 months of age, or does not respond to his or her name or combine two words by age two, these are signs that the child could be affected by autism. Other children may babble and say words at a very young age only to stop talking when they are a bit older. Still others never talk at all. Some autistic children who do speak do so in a sing-song or robotic voice that can be difficult to understand. It is often impossible for these children to ask for what they want, so they may grab objects or scream instead. As they grow older, autistic children may become depressed or anxious.
The last common factor of autistic children is that they often do things over and over, such as line up cars or toys, but not play with these things. Any small change in routine upsets many autistic children, and they usually do best when their routine is kept the same whenever possible.
Doctors and scientists have not been able to find a cause for autism spectrum disorders. It was once thought that autism resulted from mothers who did not treat a child with warmth and love, but that theory was disproved in the 1970’s by a physician whose own son was autistic. Autism exists all over the world. In fact, one estimate is that there are tens of millions of people affected by it worldwide. Of course, in countries with underdeveloped medical care, a child’s development is not always documented, so the disorder may not be noticed until the child is much older, especially in milder cases. Some scientists believe that autism has environmental causes in addition to biological reasons that have not yet been clarified. Hopefully, a cure will be found soon to help the many suffering from autism.