Autism in Children: Causes & Caring Tips
What is Autism?
Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. A child with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from other children. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of children with ASD can range from the gifted to severely challenged. Some children with ASD may need a lot of help in their daily lives and may never live independently. On the other hand, others may thrive, succeed, and be content in life even without any treatment.
What Causes Autism?
No one knows what causes most cases of autism. Older parents are more likely to have a child with autism, and having a sibling with autism also carries a higher risk. Environmental, biologic and genetic influences all appear to play some role, but it is rare to find a single cause. Vaccines do not cause autism spectrum disorder. For more than twenty years, it has been claimed autism is caused by vaccines. After years of extensive research, no reliable study has shown a link between any vaccine (including the MMR) and autism spectrum disorder. The original study that started the concerns years ago was retracted due to poor design and questionable research methods, and the doctor who wrote it had his medical license revoked. Multiple large studies since then which studied millions of children have found no association.
Does My Child have Autism?
Signs of autistic behaviour in children typically appear between 2 – 3 years of age. In some cases, autism disorders can be diagnosed as early as 15 to 18 months. Children with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They display repetitive speech and behaviours, or are very dependent on maintaining a regular daily routine. Many children with ASD may also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things.
Symptoms of autism in young children include:
- Delay in speech development (e.g. speaking less than 50 different words by 2 years of age) or no speech at all
- Frequent repetition of the same set of words
- Preference for communicating using single words despite being able to string sentences together
- Difficulty in expressing their feelings
Responding to others:
- Not responding when their name is called despite having normal hearing
- Rejecting affectionate gestures like hugs initiated by a parent or caregiver (although children may initiate hugs themselves)
- Reacting negatively when asked to do something by others
Interaction with others:
- Unaware of other’s personal space, or displaying intolerance when another person enters their personal space
- Uninterested in interacting with others, including children of a similar age
- Prefers to play alone
- Avoiding eye contact
- Displays repetitive movements (e.g. flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, flicking their fingers)
- Prefers to adhere to a familiar routine and gets very upset if there is a change to the routine
- Not being able to follow simple commands