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Autism Symptoms

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Autism is an exceedingly complex, mysterious disorder. It is defined as a neurodevelopmental condition that affects behavior. One reason autism is difficult to diagnose is because its symptoms resemble those of other conditions, including mental retardation, genetic disease, or toxic metal poisoning. In fact, there is a school of thought that believes autism is caused by lead or mercury poisoning early in life.

The symptoms of autism do show up at an early age, and it is the parents, grandparents, or other caregivers who notice that something is wrong. Perhaps the child isn't babbling as other babies do, or hasn't said "Mama" or "Dadda" around the age that nieces and nephews, or the friends' children, have spoken simple words. On the other hand, the child may have been developing normally, but then suddenly stopped talking, or no longer wanted to be around other children.

The field of psychiatry refers to autism as belonging to one of the group of disorders called pervasive development disorders (PDD). Those persons affected by a milder form of autism can learn to take care of themselves. Eventually, they may lead quite independent lives, in spite of retaining some difficulty with the nuances of communication. For others, such an autonomous lifestyle will not be possible.

Diagnosing Autism
A pediatrician can screen for autism by simply observing how a child reacts in the office, appropriate to his or her age. Screening tests include a checklist or questionnaire, but a pediatrician may order additional tests to rule out other conditions. For example, lack of response to stimulation may indicate deafness, not autism.

If there is reason to suspect autism, the child's doctor will refer the parents and child to a specialist in developmental disorders. That specialist in turn will bring in other medical personnel who are trained in speech and language. Therapists and social workers may also be involved in the evaluation, which will be comprehensive.

There are no simple x-rays or lab tests that can confirm a diagnosis of autism, even after it is made. However, the results of the extensive evaluation will be indicative of autism's existence in the child. Individuals who have been diagnosed with autism will have several, but not necessarily all, of the problems associated with the condition.

Treatment for Autism
Professionals who have evaluated the child may not always suggest the same treatments to help him progress socially and educationally. Having to choose between the treatment approaches can put a heavy burden on the parents, so talking over concerns with autism support groups is often helpful. For example, at least one parent may not want the child to be "drugged" all the time. In addition, proper dosages and monitoring for side effects of medicine in children are of great concern.

Behavioral management, with or without the aid of medication, is an accepted standard. Behavioral management involves discouraging inappropriate behavior while rewarding appropriate activities. Behavioral specialists spend a great deal of time each week with the child, up to 40 hours. However, there must be cooperation between the therapists, the family and other contacts, and the local educational system for the therapy to be successful.

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