Autism Signs and Symptoms – How to Know If Your Child Has Autism

What is autism?

Autism is a neurological disorder, meaning you are born with it. It affects the way the brain develops. Autism has a few other name–sometimes called infantile autism or autistic disorder. But regardless of what you call it, autism is something you are born with and something that you will live with for the rest of your life.

Autism is one of five pervasive development disorders (PDDs) that are categorized as either…

  • autism
  • Asperger's syndrome
  • childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Rett disorder, and
  • pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

Basically, these are categories that psychologists and therapists will use to try to categorize your child in order to begin a treatment regimen.

While a child is born with autism, it is typically not officially diagnosed until the child shows clear outward signs, usually around age 3 or so. But everyone is different and generalizations should be viewed cautiously.

Early intervention is very important. It has been shown that early and proper treatment and therapy can allow many of those with autism to learn and prosper in life and carry on a normal and productive life. While this is true for many autistic patients, others may require lifelong help with daily living activities.

What are the symptoms of autism?

While every person with autism is a unique individual in his or her own way, there are some common traits of autism. These include:

  • Poor social skills and difficulties interacting with others
  • Difficulties with communication
  • Repetitive actions or restricted interests
  • Abnormal response to sensory issues such as sound, touch, light even smell
  • Some show aggressive or self-injurious behavior such as head banging or biting themselves

For more information on symptoms of autism, see the article "Top Ten List – Signs Your Child Has Autism".

What is the intelligence level of someone with autism?

Many individuals with autism have moderate mental retardation while roughly one-third have normal intelligence levels (IQs). In addition, those with autism will have a higher likelihood of developing epilepsy than the general population.

Those with Asperger's syndrome (which is often referred to as high-functioning autism) will typically have higher-than-average IQs and function similarly to those who do not have autism. More about that later.

Are all autistic people alike?

Children and adults with autism can vary quite a bit in their skills and the extent to which they exhibit the symptoms of autism. Many show affection and emotions and are respond to friends, family and situations similarly to non-autistic people.

Some may be bright and have good communication skills while others may be mentally retarded and nonverbal. Because autism varies so much from person to person, there are varying labels often used to explain the degree along the "spectrum" where a person falls (this is why autism is described as a spectrum disorder). These descriptions include having autistic tendencies, autistic-like, being on the autism spectrum, high-functioning autism and low-functioning autism.

Regardless of where a child falls along spectrum, they are likely to exhibit problems with social communication such as lack of eye contact, difficulty carrying on a conversation, and trouble taking another person's perspective.

Some who have seen the movie Rainman or a TV show about autism have a vision in their mind of the "typical" autistic person. But autism can vary greatly from person to person. Some will talk your ear off, while others are nearly silent. Some cannot deal with loud music and noisy environments while chaotic environments do not affect others. Avoid pigeon-holing someone with autism-each person is very different in their own unique way.

What is high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome?

Those individuals who can be described as high-functioning (Asperger's syndrome falls here) may have the symptoms of autism to a much lesser degree. They may be only somewhat slower to develop language skills but still typically have difficulty interacting with others socially (they cannot get along with their peers on the playground, for example).

They may have difficulty carrying on conversations with others and they often will focus on one or two topics to the exclusion of any other subject. Because of this they may be viewed as "talking at" rather than "talking to" others because they talk endlessly about their favorite topic irrespective of attempts by others to change the subject.

The main difference between high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome is that those with Asperger's usually develop verbal speech skills right on time while people with high-functioning autism usually have speech delays. People with Asperger's are generally seen as bright and verbal but with problems in social communication skills. Some with Asperger's earn the nickname "geek."

Are people with autism cold and unfeeling?

Myths and generalities abound about people with autism. Resist believing any of them! Autistic children and adults are unique individuals. Some are outgoing, others are aloof. Some do well in school, others don't. Some will get a steady paying job while some will never be able to hold down a typical job. Some will marry, others won't. If you want to understand a person with autism, you have to spend some time with them and get to know them, just like any other person.

Some see the term autism as entirely negative. But everyone on the autistic spectrum has something to offer the world. Children and adults with autism are among the most honest, non-judgmental, passionate people you are ever likely to meet. And they are also ideal candidates for certain types of careers, as we will discuss later.

The world is a better place because of them.

Once we understand how a child or adult with autism behaves, and understand that sensory issues as well as the need for routine motivate their actions, we can devise treatments and training to help them cope with an ever-changing world. Many treatments allow those with autism to succeed and thrive.

Hopefully treatments can make life a little easier especially for those with autism and the people who love them. And for additional tips and suggestions that can help your loved one live a fulfilling and happy life read Craig Kendall's book, The Autism Survival Guide.

The Autism Survival GuideCraig's book The Autism Survival Guide has received rave reviews from parents and professionals alike for its pragmatic and practical approaches to solving the everyday problems that parents face.

Click here for more information on Craig's book, and to sign up for Craig's FREE Autism Newsletter.

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