What to Know About Autism in Kids

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of conditions that affect the development of children. Children with ASD often struggle with communicating and might lack conventional social skills. Signs of autism in kids vary widely but typically affect a child’s behaviors, communication, and social skills.

While some autistic children might only exhibit mild symptoms, others might experience severe symptoms that affect their daily functioning. 

While more research needs to be done into what causes autism and its most effective treatments, diagnosing and treating autism as early as possible is in a child’s best interest. Autistic children are more likely to develop conditions like depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, and anxiety. About 1 out of 160 children in the world today have ASD.

This article looks into what you need to know if your child is autistic and what treatment options are available to you.

Symptoms of Autism in Children 

Autistic children experience a wide range of symptoms. Symptoms of autism will look different from one child to another. Signs of the condition might sometimes look different in girls than it does in boys.

Girls with autism appear to be quieter and better at "masking" their symptoms, making diagnosing autism in girls a little more complicated than in boys.

Signs of autism will also look a little different in younger children than in older children. Some of the most common symptoms of the disorder include: 

  • Trouble making or maintaining eye contact with other people 
  • Difficulty communicating with other people 
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Issues with handling new changes 
  • Reacting strongly to loud noises and bright lights 
  • Exhibiting repetitive behavior such as clapping their hands repeatedly or rocking their bodies back and forth

Signs of Autism in Younger Children 

Autism can be detected in children as young as two years old. Some research shows that you might even begin to notice symptoms as early as 18 months old. Some early signs of autism you can look out for in your babies and toddlers include: 

  • Not responding to their name when called 
  • Being unable to get your attention when they want it 
  • Being unable to follow visual objects 
  • Resiting attempts to cuddle or make physical contact 
  • Being unable to imitate facial expressions or movements of people around them 
  • Being unable to communicate even with baby talk 

Signs of Autism in Older Children

As children get older, it can become a little easier to pick up on signs of autism. Some signs of autism you might notice in your older children include: 

  • Is unresponsive or hostile when you try to touch them 
  • Finds it challenging to understand emotional cues 
  • Has difficulty communicating their needs 
  • Avoids making eye contact with other people 
  • Has difficulty making friends 
  • Preferring to remain in isolation than interact with other people 
  • Sticking to a strict routine and getting upset when that routine is disrupted 

How Autism Is Diagnosed in Children 

There is no specific medical test used to diagnose ASD in children. However, specific diagnostic tools can be used to detect autism in children from as young as age two.

Making an early diagnosis of ASD can facilitate earlier treatment, which helps children with this condition cope better.

Some signs a doctor will look out for in children when trying to determine if they have ASD include: 

  • Unable to make eye contact 
  • No spoken language or compensation by 16 months
  • Speaking very little or speaking in an unusual voice 
  • Inability to communicate with their hands by 1 year old
  • Loss of social or language skills 
  • Exhibiting repetitive behavior (repeating every word heard or repeating a particular gesture)

What Causes Autism in Children?

It’s difficult to pinpoint what causes autism in either children or adults. There are, however, multiple risk factors that are thought to contribute to the development of the condition.

Environmental and genetic factors have been identified as the most likely culprits. There has been substantial evidence linking autism to genetic factors, but no specific gene has been identified to cause the disorder. The odds are that many different genes could cause the condition. 

Research does show that the brains of autistic children look a little different from those of children who do not have the condition. In the early years, the brains of autistic children appear to grow faster than those of other children. It’s not clear what causes this accelerated growth, but it affects the way the brain behaves.

Historically, vaccines have been wrongly linked to the development of autism in children. However, there have been decades of research put into debunking this notion. There are no vaccines that can be linked to autism in children or put them at risk of developing the condition.

How Autism Is Treated in Children 

There is currently no cure for autism. However, with the proper treatment, its symptoms can be adequately managed. The treatment for ASD in children depends on the severity of their symptoms. Treatment for ASD in children is discussed below.

Medication

There’s no medication specifically approved by the FDA for the treatment of autism. However, certain medications might be prescribed for the treatment of specific symptoms or conditions that might have developed as a result of autism.  

Therapy

Different forms of therapies are used to treat autism in children. The form of therapy used is dependent on the child’s unique needs. The following therapies are most commonly used for treating autism: 

  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy aims to equip autistic children with skills to function in their day-to-day lives. 
  • Applied behavior analysis (ABA): Research shows that ABA is one of the most effective forms of therapy for autistic children, whether they exhibit mild or severe symptoms. It equips children with communication and social skills to help them interact with other people.

Tips for Parents With Autistic Children 

Raising an autistic child can sometimes be challenging. While ASD can be positively impacted with the right treatment, there’s no cure for it. This means it’s a lifelong condition and people who have it need to manage it.

Here are some tips you can employ to help your child manage their condition: 

  • Stay on top of your autistic child’s treatment plan. This typically involves a combination of medication and therapy. With the right treatment plan, your autistic child can live a healthy life. 
  • Join local support groups. You can join Autism Society, Asperger/Autism Network (AANE), and Autism Speaks. Talking to and hearing from other parents of autistic children can be helpful.
  • Don’t forget to also take care of yourself. It’s very easy to become burned out trying to stay on top of all your autistic child’s needs. However, if you are not at your best, you can’t give your child the proper care. 
  • Look out for early signs of the condition in your children. Having one autistic child means that subsequent children are at a greater risk of being born with the condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a program called Learn the Signs, Act Early that contains materials and information which can help parents spot early signs of autism and other developmental disorders. 
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8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cleveland Clinic. Autism signs can be different in girls. September 3, 2019.

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