Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These problems happen when the brain develops differently and has trouble making sense of the world.
Every day, our brains interpret (understand) the things we see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and experience. But when someone’s brain has trouble interpreting these things, it can make it hard to talk, listen, understand, play, and learn. Children with autism have trouble communicating.
They have trouble understanding what other people think and feel. This makes it very hard for them to express themselves either with words or through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.
A kid’s symptoms could be very mild, severe, or somewhere in the middle. Someone with mild symptoms might need only a little bit of help. But a kid with severe symptoms might need a lot of help with learning and doing everyday stuff. Kids with autism often can’t make connections that other kids easily. For example, when people smile, you know they feel happy or friendly; when people look mad, you can tell by their face or their voice. But many kids who have autism spectrum disorders have trouble understanding what emotions look like and what another person is thinking. They might act in a way that seems unusual, and it can be hard to understand why they’re doing it.
A child with ASD who is very sensitive may be greatly troubled — sometimes even pained — by sounds, touches, smells, or sights that seem normal to others. At times they may seem not to notice people, objects, or activities in their surroundings. Some children with autism may also develop seizures. And in some cases, those seizures may not occur until adolescence. They may have problems in certain areas, especially the ability to communicate and relate to others. But they may have unusually developed skills in other areas, such as drawing, creating music, solving math problems, or memorizing facts.
Symptoms of autism typically appears during the first three years of life. Some children show signs from birth. Others seem to develop normally at first, only to slip suddenly into symptoms when they are 18 to 36 months old.
Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. It knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, or educational levels do not affect a child’s chance of being autistic.