How much do you really know about autism spectrum disorders? Get the facts on symptoms, treatment options, and more.
Facts about autism
More than 3.5 million adults and children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—that’s one in every 68 births. More people have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders in recent years, according to data from the CDC; and with this increase has come more knowledge and awareness for the developmental disorder. But there are still a lot of misconceptions about autism. Here, nine things you may not know about autism spectrum disorders, including symptoms, how children are diagnosed, available treatments, and more.
Children can be very young when they’re diagnosed
It’s possible for children as young as 18 months to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. But most diagnoses occur at 24 months or older, at which point the diagnosis is considered to be very reliable. “Before that, kids with autism will show deficits in social communication, but it’s appropriate for their age,” says Alycia Halladay, PhD, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation in New York City.
There’s no medical or blood test for autism, so doctors typically evaluate a child’s behavior through a developmental screening and then a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, which can include hearing, vision, and neurological tests. The doctor may also recommend a follow-up visit to a specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician.
There’s a wide range of symptoms
Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can vary widely depending on the individual. For some people, symptoms of the disorder are mild, while they may be more pronounced in others. But symptoms of ASD generally tend to involve communication skills and social behaviors, such as being extremely introverted, not wanting to play with other children, or not making eye contact. Kids with autism spectrum disorder may repeat certain behaviors (such as flapping their hands) over and over again, or they may become obsessed with a particular toy, like Thomas the Train.
Lack of verbal skills is one of the most well known symptoms (20 to 30% of people with ASD are estimated to be nonverbal), but this isn’t always the case. Other red flags for parents: if a child is very sensitive to noise, throws intense tantrums, doesn’t respond spoken to, doesn’t point at interesting objects, or doesn’t play “pretend” games by 18 months.
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