Approximately one in every 68 American children are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism Spectrum Disorders are approximately four to five times more common in boys than in girls, but ASDs may occur in children of any gender or race.
There is a wide variation in the symptoms of children with Autism, which led to the term Autism Spectrum. Despite the drastic variations, there are commonalities between all disorders on the Autism Spectrum. All ASDs involve difficulties with social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, and abnormal behaviours or interests. Every patient will have his or her own pattern of autism, so it is important to bear in mind that no two children will have identical experiences.
ASDs appear to have their roots in very early brain development, though symptoms may not be noticed until the child is two or three years old. In some cases, the developmental differences may be evident from birth. In others, development may seem to progress normally until the child’s speech has developed enough to show abnormal thoughts or preoccupations, while still other children may suddenly suffer a setback in social or language skills.
Many individuals with ASD have heightened abilities in certain areas, such as visual art, music, or academic skills. Roughly 40% of ASD patients have above average intelligence. Conversely, other ASD patients have significant disability and are unable to live independently. Approximately 25% of ASD patients are not able to communicate verbally, but find other means of communicating effectively.
It is not yet absolutely certain what the cause of ASD is, but it is strongly believed ASD is not the result of only one factor. It has been discovered in recent years that there are number of genetic mutations associated with Autism, though most of these mutations are not sufficient to cause ASD on their own. Instead, most cases of ASD seem to be caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition in conjunction with environmental influence on early brain development. Environmental factors that increase a risk of a child having ASD include advanced age in either parent at time of conception, certain illnesses experienced by the mother during pregnancy, and difficulties during birth, particularly those causing lack of oxygen.
Early diagnosis of ASD may lead to earlier involvement in the therapies that show great potential to help a child cope with the disorder. Speech therapy and physical therapy may help an ASD child improve their language skills and physical coordination.