"Autism" is a blanket term that describes a number of related conditions that all involve impaired brain development. The more formal term that encompasses all the conditions of autism is “autism spectrum disorders.”
Several different conditions are considered autism spectrum disorders, but they share some common features. They're characterized by difficulty communicating and interacting with others socially, as well as patterns of behavior that are very repetitive and often impaired, compared with what is usually seen in an age group. Autism tends to emerge in children between 2 and 3 years of age, and boys are more likely than girls to develop it.
Types of Autism
The most severe form of autism is often simply called autism, or classical ASD. These children will show the greatest number of symptoms or the most severe manifestations of certain symptoms. At an early age, children with autism may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on an object for long periods of time. This may start early in infancy, or children may gradually become more unresponsive as they grow older. Other symptoms include delayed communication, being unresponsive to others and destructive behaviors like biting or banging the head against things.
Milder forms of autism have similar characteristics, but only a few symptoms may appear or the symptoms might not be as extreme. These conditions include pervasive developmental disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and Asperger syndrome, among others. Autism may also be related to other childhood health conditions such as ADHD, fragile X syndrome, Tourette syndrome and epilepsy.
Treatment of Autism
Though some with autism have severe disabilities, others can learn to use their abilities and be highly functional adults, even with the disorder. Many people with autism have above-average intelligence and unique abilities when it comes to things like music and academics.
Part of the process of helping those with autism is through therapy related to their educational and behavior challenges. Applied behavioral analysis is one type of therapy that is commonly used. In these sessions, children with autism are taught how to learn, speak and interact socially with others. In many cases, medication may also be part of the treatment to help with conditions related to the autism spectrum disorder.
SOURCES: AutismSpeaks.org; U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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