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Autism is a bio-neurological disorder that typically manifests within the first two and a half years of life. Autistic children have no marked physical differences; symptoms emerge in the behavior and social interactions of the child.
The American Psychiatric Association categorizes autism as one of the five Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a group of neurological disorders that drastically impede emotional and behavioral development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximate 1 out of every 110 children in the United States suffers from autism. Research has shown that boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the rate of autism is rising 10-17 percent every year. The rising rate of autism has motivated increased research, awareness and support options for this prevalent developmental disorder. Although there is no cure for autism, early diagnosis and treatment have helped improve the prognosis of many autistic individuals.
Causes of autism
The causes of autism are not entirely clear. According to the Autism Society of America, the most widely held theory considers autism the result of a brain irregularity. An autistic child’s brain differs in shape and structure from the brain of a neuro-typical child. Researchers are conflicted as to whether the differences are genetically determined, medically related or a combination of both.
The link between autism and certain medical conditions, such as Fragile X syndrome, congenital rubella syndrome, tuberous scelerosis and untreated phenylketonuria (PKU), have been touted as a possible causes of autism based on the prevalence of autism occurring in children diagnosed with one of the aforementioned conditions. Researchers have also found that consuming harmful substances while pregnant can increase the risk of autism in your newborn.
Environmental toxins and autism
The Autism Research Institute (ARI) points the finger at environmental toxins as a contributing cause of autism. In the past, autism was rare; approximately 1 in 1,000 children were diagnosed. As our world has become increasingly industrialized, the prevalence of environmental toxins, such as mercury, has grown. Researchers at ARI hypothesize that a child with a tendency toward autism is unable to effectively metabolize and rid herself of the toxins she is exposed to, which may trigger the onslaught of autism.
A more controversial theory cited as a cause of autism is the over-vaccination of children. The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and vaccines with thimerosal, which contains a trace amount of mercury, have been under particular scrutiny. While mercury is neuro-toxic, research has yet to prove a medical link between vaccines and autism.
Other possible causes
Other possible causes of autism include complications that arise during delivery, as well as the effect of a compromised immune system in the mother. Research has provided evidence that suggests that injury to the amygdale may be a contributing factor to autism.
Symptoms of autism
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of autism will appear in the social, communication and behavioral tendencies a child displays. The autistic spectrum is varied and wide, and no two autistic children behave the exact same way, making diagnosis difficult. There are, however, some general signs to look out for.
Autistic children may not always respond when called by name, have trouble making eye contact, do not like to be held or touched, appear insensitive to other people’s feelings or play alone rather than with other children. Some autistic children have communication difficulties; they may not talk at all, they cannot sustain a conversation or their speech is robotic or singsong in tone. Behavioral symptoms of autism include recurring movement, such as hand-flapping, spinning, or rocking, a need for routine, sensitivity to light, sound and touch, a high tolerance for pain or a fixation with a particular object or topic.