What Do We Know About Autism?

What Do We Know About Autism?

Lee esto en EspañolParenting means helping your children grow, develop and navigate the world. It’s no different for parents of children with autism. Yet, they face a unique set of challenges. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaving site icon says that one in 44 children in the U.S. has autism spectrum disorderleaving site icon

Autism is a general term that describes a group of complex neuro-developmental disorders. They are characterized by challenges with:

  • Communication
  • Learning
  • Social dealings
  • Behaviors and interests

Other problems often go with autism. Medical issues, delays in developmental milestones, uncommon eating and sleeping habits, anxiety and out-of-the-ordinary sensory perceptions.

What Causes Autism?

A very short time ago, the answer was “we have no idea.” Today, new research is revealing some answers.

We now know there is no one cause of autism — just as there is no one type of autism. While there have been concerns that some vaccines may contribute to autism, the CDC concludes there is no relationship between the two.

Struggling to Communicate

Trouble connecting with others is one of the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder. Even those who do speak often struggle to understand others and make themselves understood.

Although autism appears to be tied to very early brain development, most signs and symptoms tend to appear between two and three years of age. Parents are often the first to notice that their child shows unusual behaviors. Failing to make eye contact, not responding to his or her name, or playing with toys in unusual and repetitive ways are all warning signs.

Autism spectrum disorder can also be diagnosed later in life as learning, social and emotional troubles appear.

Parents of infants and toddlers should stay alert for language delays. If diagnosed, techniques used in autism therapy can help at home. It’s important to remember that each case is different. The best way to learn about your child’s unique needs is to take part in his or her treatment. Ask your child’s therapists questions and listen to their advice.

Treatment Options

There is currently no cure for autism spectrum disorder. Doctors and researchers are still working to find out which treatments work best for each child. For now, early intervention can make school and life easier for most kids with autism. It’s essential to talk with your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child may have ASD or other developmental problems. Some children can benefit from behavioral therapy and medications.

Look for a qualified developmental pediatrician, child neurologist, child psychologist or psychiatrist to guide your child’s treatment. Check with your specialist before trying any alternative therapy, special diet or supplements.

Additional Health Problems

Autism often goes hand in hand with other health issues. Many children can’t sleep well, have seizures or digestive troubles. Others develop anxiety, depression or other psychological conditions.

Your child’s doctor should treat these conditions, too. Consider adding a specialist in another field to the treatment team, if needed. For instance, a gastroenterologist may be able to help with stomach issues.

Sources: Autism Spectrum Disorder, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023; Autism Spectrum Disorder, leaving site icon National Institutes of Health, 2024

Originally published 4/27/2015; Revised 2019, 2021, 2022, 2024