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Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in as many as one in every 91 American children, including one in 58 boys (The American Academy of Pediatrics' Journal Pediatrics). Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence.

Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. The disorder makes it hard for them to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present. Persons with autism may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping, rocking), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. Individuals may also experience sensitivities in the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

Symptoms of autism can occur in isolation or in combination with other conditions. There is a wide spectrum of autism, and each child and their individual symptoms may vary significantly from one another.
Autism can be treated. Positive outcomes depend upon the intensity and quality of the program designed for each individual, along with the dedication of families to carryover teaching techniques into all areas of the child’s life.

The major symptoms of autism include:

  • Failure to develop normal socialization skills.
    • Lack of eye contact
    • Interest in objects rather than people
    • Lack of "attachment" or emotional bonds
    • Unresponsive emotionally
    • Lack of desire to be held or touched
    • Prefers to be alone
  • Communication disorders
    • Echolalia
    • Memorized language learning (verbatim reiteration of dialogue from video tapes, advertisements)
    • Non-verbal (40% do not speak at all)
    • Lack of intonation or inflection
    • Use of a phrase or sentence continuously out of its typical context
    • Questionable apraxia of speech
  • Rigidity/Inflexibility
    • Need for sameness/routines
    • Lack of creative-imaginative play
    • Desire to hold objects daily
    • Extreme reactions to change
  • Abnormal responses to Sensory Input
    • Overreaction to loud noises
    • Acute awareness of background noises which most are able to ignore
    • Fascination with lights, venetian blinds, color patterns, using peripheral vision, textures to feel
    • Spinning items or themselves around
    • Walking on tip toe, or back and forth from different floor textures.
    • Little response to pain.
    • Sniffing objects
    • Aversion to different food textures
    • *In general, using the senses of taste and smell rather than hearing and vision.

Evaluation of Autism:
A team of professionals together can best determine autism. This would include a psychologist, neurologist, pediatrician, speech and language pathologist, classroom teacher, and other professionals involved with the child. It is a set of symptoms, particularly communication, which needs to be addressed.

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