HEALTH – July 2012

What is autism, and how it affects children?

In the last decade, there has been a notable increase in cases of autism. A growing number of Latino children are diagnosed with the disorder every year. The current number of the Latino population diagnosed with autism is 1 in 170. Despite this pronounced increase in recent years, there is little information available in Spanish for parents of children with the disorder.

So what is autism? Autism is a pervasive disorder that manifests itself in children through various symptoms affecting their speech, and inhibiting their ability to interact with the social environment around them, and behavior. The severity of the disorder varies depending on the manifestation of its multiple symptoms.

The first symptoms of autism are observed between 6 and 42 months after birth, and are typically of a social and interpersonal nature. Usually, these become apparent in the individual’s ability to pay attention, maintain eye contact, and his or her failures and changes toward social stimuli and communication. Fortunately, there have been advances in the early detection of autism. Experts are now able to show autistic tendencies in children between 18 to 24 months. Every person suffering from autism has his or her own level of severity.

Other symptoms of autism in older children are playing with toys and objects in an unusual way, difficulty dealing with changes in routines and repetitive body movements or behavior. Many children with autism have low sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive to noise, touch or other sensory stimuli.

What causes autism? Scientists are not sure what causes autism, but have found environmental factors and genetic predispositions. In addition, several investigations in the field of neurology have found some possible factors for its cause. Individuals with autism have irregularities in different parts of the brain, and abnormal levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. These findings have led neurologists to conclude that the cause of the disorder is related to brain development after conception. However, experts postulate that the cause of autism is a combination of genetics and environment.

Early detection is important for individuals with autism in order to provide the best treatment to suit the severity of the disorder. Early interventions generate more social opportunities for the individual throughout the course of his or her life.

Detection, diagnosis and evaluation require the intervention of professionals specializing in autism. For more information on the subject, you can visit OnondagaCounty’s website www.ongov.net, where you will find a guide especially for parents of children with autism called “Autism Spectrum Disorders.”

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