By The Pulse Staff

Autism is a behavioral disorder that affects the way the brain uses or transmits information, resulting in impaired thinking, feeling and social functioning. It involves many challenges, including delays and impairment in social skills, language, and other behavior. It’s often referred to as a spectrum disorder, because its symptoms can appear in a number of combinations, ranging from mild to severe. Despite its complexity, it is a treatable condition and early intervention is the key to progress.

Autism is actually a general term for a group of brain disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders. It is heterogenous in its behavioral features, as well as its biological features. It’s usually diagnosed by physicians, health care workers or special education personnel.

The disorder usually appears during the first three years of a child’s life and is typically diagnosed soon afterward. Behaviorally, it’s a syndrome of abnormalities involving language, social reciprocity, hyperfocus, and reduced behavioral flexibility.

Common signs to look out for include:

– Avoiding eye contact

– Not smiling when smiled at

– Unresponsive to cuddling

– Does not use gestures or respond to them

– Displays a lack of interest in others

– Does not imitate movements

– Does not respond to familiar voices or their own name

– Unusual or abnormal reactions

– Acts cold or “robot-like”

– Abnormal posture or clumsiness

– Obsessive with the orderly arrangement of objects

– Preoccupation with numbers, symbols or mundane facts

– Repetitive movements

– Staring at lights or other objects

The symptoms of autism tend to change throughout the course of a child’s life. Although the diagnosis may not be made until a child reaches preschool or school age, the signs and symptoms may be apparent by the time they are 12 to 18 months old and are almost always evident by the time they are around 3 years old.

Doctors will want to combine these symptoms with research of the family’s medical history and a physical examination. Autism families are often multi-generational and children with autism frequently have family members who share some autistic traits, but not enough for a diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism is roughly five times more common in boys than girls.

Experts have traditionally blamed abnormal genetics for the development of autism. There seems to be an obvious genetic component and there’s a great deal of research being conducted to figure out which genes may be involved. However, there are also signs of a deeper connection to the body’s metabolic processes. For instance, researchers have noticed that the effects of autism often involve the immune system and the digestive tract. It’s not uncommon for autistic kids to also have problems with allergies, eczema or diarrhea.

Sometimes when children are told not to eat or drink anything prior to going in for certain tests, parents are quick to report that their symptoms actually improved during that period of time. This leads some experts to conclude that autism is part of a larger and more complex problem that may require treating not just the brain, but also the body.

Autism is reaching epidemic levels in the United States. Statistics show that it affects as many as 1 of every 500 children. These numbers are rising because the medical community is getting better at identifying autism and becoming more aware of those with it who have always been around. However, this also makes it a tremendous financial drain on the healthcare system.

Autism has been around for many years, but hasn’t always been well understood by the medical community. This has led to a significant number of people being misdiagnosed. It’s a lifelong, complex disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Although there is currently no documented cure, it can be treated with therapy, education plans, and medication. The earlier kids are diagnosed with the disorder, the sooner they can begin getting help with language and learning skills.