Autism And Children: What Causes It?

Learn about the various theories regarding causes of the mysterious condition known as autism, generally diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 4.

Autism is a mysterious disease that affects many children. Children can be affected by autism in various degrees, and because of this, some statistics place the prevalence as high as 1 in 160 children in various areas of the United States. Most cases are not diagnosed until a child is between two and four years of age.

There is no medical test to determine if your child has autism, although receiving routine developmental evaluation can help if a diagnosis is later necessary. Rather, there is a long list of characteristics exhibited by children with autism and if autism is suspected in a child, their behaviors are often compared to those on the list and a diagnosis is made that way. Autism is often a diagnosis of exclusion - if there are no known organic causes for a behaviors a child is exhibiting (and a certain number of characteristics also on the autism list are being shown) a diagnosis of autism is given. There is a lengthy list of behaviors/characteristics for the disease; here are some of the most common.

Persistent developmental delays

A resistance to change in routine

Extreme tantrums for no apparent reason

Repetitive action or play

Difficulty in interacting with peers

Unable make eye contact

Seem as though they are "staring through you"

Prefer to be alone

Disinterested in/unable to play "pretend"

Mystery surrounds the cause of autism, and there are many theories currently in evaluation. Most medical professionals believe that it has to do with an abnormality in brain structure and function, but doctors disagree on how this abnormality actually comes into play regarding the disorder. Other theories regarding the cause of autism are:

Genetics: If one child in a family has autism, research has shown that subsequent children are 25% more likely to have autism, too. If one of the affected children is an identical twin, there is a 75% chance that the other twin will be affected also.

Prenatal Infection: A mother who becomes infected with certain illnesses while pregnant (including rubella or cytomegalovirus) is at higher risk of having a child who develops autism.

Vaccines: Generally speaking, medical professionals vehemently deny a link between vaccinations and autism. However, other groups feel there are obvious links between the two. The question arose after thousands of children displayed signs of autism after receiving their MMR shots. There is research found that seemingly supports both sides of the argument, and vaccinations continue to be a controversial issue in the autism spectrum.

Environment: Various metals, chemicals and environmental toxins have also been blamed for the rise in autism rates. Research is currently underway to determine how much effect these have on children. Areas that are near chemical plants, landfills, and other toxic places have shown an increase in autistic cases, higher than the national average.

If a child is found to be autistic, early individualized intervention is important to improve the outcome. There is no cure for autism, but some of the symptoms are treatable. As a whole, issues are handled best if a program is put in place for the child that includes support from the family, school, medical contacts, and the local community.

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