Autistic disorder (also called autism; more recently described as "mindblindedness") is a neurological and developmental disorder that usually appears during the first three years of life. A child with autism appears to live in his/her own world, showing little interest in others, and a lack of social awareness. The focus of an autistic child is a consistent routine and includes an interest in repeating odd and peculiar behaviors. Autistic children often have problems in communication, avoid eye contact, and show limited attachment to others.
Autism can prevent a child from forming relationships with others (in part, due to an inability to interpret facial expressions or emotions). A child with autism may resist cuddling, play alone, be resistant to change, and/or have delayed speech development. Persons with autism tend to exhibit repeated body movements (such as flapping hands or rocking) and have unusual attachments to objects. However, many persons with autism excel consistently on certain mental tasks (i.e., counting, measuring, art, music, memory).
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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) describes five pervasive developmental disorders: autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger's disorder, Rett's disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Although they differ in some specifics, these disorders share three core features: impaired social interactions, difficulty in communicating with others, and repetitive or inflexible behavior. Recognizing that these disorders differ mainly in terms of severity, authors of the draft DSM-V, now undergoing review, have proposed deleting Rett's disorder and including the other four under the single category of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
It remains unclear what causes an ASD, but most risk factors are genetic. When one identical twin develops an ASD, then 82% to 92% of the time the other one (who shares the same genes) will also develop the disorder. The concordance rate drops to 10% or less in fraternal twins, who share only some genes.
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Cases of autism are on the rise across the country. And many Americans find they have more questions than answers regarding this mental disorder.
Autism is not one single disorder, but refers to a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders. At one end of the spectrum are children with little impairment. At the other end, children can be severely limited in their communication skills and social abilities.
"It affects individuals differently and to varying degrees, says Dr. Chris P. Johnson, pediatric specialist and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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The boy continually flicks his hand while ignoring everything around him. He seems locked in his own world. He suffers from a condition called autism. A recent article in Pediatrics reported that about one in 91 children has autism spectrum disorder. Autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, with four times as many boys affected than girls. It usually shows up before a child turns 3. An autistic child may not speak or may simply mimic sounds. He may be prone to bizarre gestures and often rejects physical contact. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children should be screened for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at 18 months and 24 months, regardless of whether there are any signs or concerns about a child's developmental progress
When psychiatrist Bryna Seigel, Ph.D., began working with autistic children, experts thought that mothers could cause autism by not giving their child enough hugs. She helped dispel this belief by showing that autism was a neurological condition.
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Most infants and young children love to be held and cuddled. This helps them form close bonds with their parents and other caregivers. But children with autism may resist being touched. And they may often seem remote and withdrawn. Some may never learn to talk. Although there is no cure for autism, many children with the disorder can be greatly helped.
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