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Autism Spectrum Disorder


What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a difference in the way a person's brain develops. People with ASD are born with it and their problems usually begin in the first couple of years of life. They may have trouble with communicating and relating to others.

What's it Like to Have Autism Spectrum Disorder?

ASD affects different people in different ways. Some people can't speak or learn. Their behavior may seem strange; they may avoid other people; they may pace and move their bodies in unusual ways, like flapping their hands. They may repeat lines from TV shows or movies.

People with less severe ASD are able to talk and learn. But they may have trouble:

  • expressing feelings. They may seem cold and distant.
  • understanding the feelings of others. They may ignore or misunderstand how other people might feel or behave in a situation.
  • reading social cues. They might not understand body language or facial expression; they stand too close; they ignore signs of boredom or frustration.
  • handling sensory information. Loud noises, bright lights, or crowds may bother them.
  • handling a new routine. It might be hard for them to sit in a different seat or having a substitute teacher.

Some might get get super-focused on a single topic or hobby, some of which may be unusual (apple varieties, World War I).

What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

No one knows exactly what causes ASD. It probably has something to do with DNA — the genes passed down from your parents — and other things, like infections or toxins that change the way the brain develops. Problems during pregnancy and around the time of birth raise the chance of getting autism.

Vaccines do not cause autism.

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

Doctors check babies and little kids for signs of autism at each checkup visit. A parent may think that something is wrong and tell the doctor. Maybe the child is old enough to speak but doesn't. Or a kid doesn't seem interested in people or plays in unusual ways.

If the doctor suspects autism, a team of experts (which may include doctors, a psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and a special education teacher) will evaluate a child.

How Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Treated?

There is no cure for autism, but treatment can make a big difference. The sooner treatment starts, the better. With therapy, people with autism learn language, improve in school, and build social skills. Many kids with ASD are in special education classes or get special education services.

A treatment program might include:

  • speech therapy to help with talking and language skills
  • occupational therapy to help with everyday tasks, like dressing and playing
  • behavioral therapy to help improve behavior
  • social skills training to help with relating to others
  • special education to help learning
  • medicine to help with things like sleep, paying attention, and hyperactivity

How Can I Help a Friend With Autism?

People with ASD have a very wide array of signs and symptoms. Some people with ASD do not feel that they have a disorder and don't want to change. They're proud of who they are and they want to be accepted, even though they may have different strengths and weaknesses than most other people.

All people deserve respect. But people with ASD may be teased, bullied, or left out because they're different. Bullying and teasing are never the right way to treat other people, but it may be hard to be a friend with someone who has ASD.

People with ASD often don't understand playful jokes or sarcasm. You may need to be very clear and factual when you communicate with someone who has ASD.

Try to be patient and kind. Remember how hard it might be for the person with ASD to understand how to be a friend. Stand up for classmates who are bullied. Tell adults, so they can help protect kids who are bullied.

Date reviewed: March 2019