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5 facts about autism

May 18, 2018—A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 59 children has autism. That's an increase from the 2016 estimate of 1 in 68. The change could be due to improved screening of Hispanic and black children, CDC says.

It's important to be educated about autism. Learning more can help you better interact with people with autism and help you spot potential signs of autism in your child.

Here are five important facts about autism:

1. Autism is a spectrum disorder.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects people to varying degrees. The challenges they face and the strengths they possess change depending on the individual.

Common challenges people with ASD face include difficulty with social skills, repetitive behaviors, and problems with speech and nonverbal communication. A person on the spectrum might struggle with all of these challenges or only a few.

2. It usually manifests in early childhood.

Doctors can recognize ASD in people as early as infancy (18 to 24 months). However, the characteristics of autism are usually clearest during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).

All children should be screened for developmental delays during regular well-child doctor visits. But the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development lists these five behaviors as early symptoms to watch for:

  • Does not babble or coo by 12 months.
  • Does not point, wave or grasp by 12 months.
  • Does not speak single words by 16 months.
  • Does not say two-word phrases by 24 months.
  • Has any loss of language or social skill at any age.

3. There's no single cause of autism.

Researchers are still looking to pinpoint what causes autism. Experts generally believe that abnormalities in a person's brain structure are key.

A number of theories are being explored, including genetic and medical factors. Researchers are looking for irregular segments of genetic code that could be inherited. And others are studying environmental factors like viral infections or exposure to chemicals.

4. Diagnosing ASD can be difficult.

There's no easy medical exam, like a blood test, that can detect autism. That makes it harder for doctors to diagnose.

Instead, doctors look at a child's behavior and development to diagnose ASD. Diagnosis is a two-step process involving a developmental screening followed by a full diagnostic evaluation.

5. Asperger's syndrome is a milder form of autism.

Formerly considered a separate condition, Asperger's syndrome was added to the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder in 2013. Children with Asperger's may be socially awkward, show a lack of empathy and make limited eye contact.

Unlike those with classic autism, children with Asperger's do not have language delays or notable cognitive delays. They also tend to show more interest in social interactions than people with autism do, but they may not understand how to participate.

Are you a parent of a child with autism? Check out these helpful tips for caring for a child who has a chronic illness.

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