Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments
Sep 7, 2010
1:33 PM ET
By Amanda Chan, MyHealthNewsDaily Staff Writer
Autism spectrum disorders affect a person's ability to communicate and interact with others and behave appropriately in social situations. Approximately 1 in 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The only way to diagnose an autism spectrum disorder is through behavioral observation and testing. An infant may begin showing signs of autism by 18 months or younger, but a reliable diagnosis is usually made around age 2 or 3, according to the CDC.
It's also possible for children to appear to be developing normally for the first few months or years of life, and then suddenly lose their language skills and become aggressive or withdrawn, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Those most at risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder are boys, siblings of people with autism and people who have other developmental disorders, such as Fragile X syndrome, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Experts agree that early diagnosis – and therefore intervention – is helpful in improving development in a child with autism. Early intervention therapies may include helping the child learn to walk, talk and interact with others, according to the CDC.
There is no cure for autism spectrum disorders. However, there are behavioral and educational therapies to reduce symptoms.
"Some programs focus on reducing problem behaviors and teaching new skills," according to the Mayo Clinic, whereas "other programs focus on teaching children how to act in social situations or how to communicate better with other people."
Some therapy programs include occupational therapy, speech therapy and sensory integration therapy.
Medications are also available to help control symptoms of autism. Antidepressants can treat anxiety and antipsychotic medications can treat behavioral problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.