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Autism is a developmental disability that occurs in young children and shows signs before they turn three years old. Autism affects the individuals ability to interact, be socially appropriate and communicate. It is known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because it affects everyone very differently with different side effects and ranges of communication or interaction issues. Like many conditions occurring in young children, they are simply born with the gene and there isn't a specific cause for it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 1 in every 88 children born in the US have an autistic disorder, with it being more common among boys. According to the Autism Society, autism will cost the parents or guardians about $3.5 million to $5 million during the child's lifetime, which includes transportation, research, insurance, expenses not covered by insurance, housing, employment, health care and other expenses.

Causes and Risk Factors of Autism

There isn't a single cause that leads to a child developing autism, though there are some likely risk factors. Genetics play a primary role in developing autism, especially with identical twins that are more likely to develop autism as opposed to fraternal twins or non-multiple siblings. Chromosomal abnormalities and neurological problems are common in families where a child has autism. Parents who have language or personality abnormalities are likely to have a child with autism as well.

There are also some causes that are suspected due to how common they are, though have not yet been proven: diet, mercury poisoning, digestive track differences, vaccine sensitivity, and the inability to use vitamins and minerals properly. Vaccines have long since been a concern with children who develop autism, though there is no proof that this is true. The worry is that some vaccines use a small amount of mercury, which is one of the suspected causes of autism. Gender plays another role because males are more than twice as likely to develop autism. Some children are suspected to have autism, but instead have another developmental disorder such as Aspergers, Rett syndrome or Childhood Disintegrative disorder.

Symptoms, Signs and Tests of Autism

Children with autism will have developed it by age three and most show signs by the time they turn 18 months. Some of the primary signs of autism in young children are difficulty with imaginative play, social interactions and communication, both verbal and non-verbal. People with autism can be overly sensitive with all their senses, have distress and anxiety when routines change, perform the same body movement over and over again and have attachments to inanimate objects.

Other common signs of autism include not being able to start a social conversation, using gestures instead of verbal communication, learning to talks lower than other children of the same age, referring to themselves in the second person, not making friends, being withdrawn and preferring alone time, being very quiet, avoiding eye contact, not being bothered by loud noises yet finding normal noises painful, heightened or lower senses, not being able to use imagination for play, having a short attention span, aggression and lack of empathy towards others and having very few interests. Many children are diagnosed with autism during a routine doctor visit.

Doctors will look for developmental issues during these visits such as not meeting their language or behavioral milestones. Evaluations include a hearing evaluation, autism screening, blood lead test and autism-specific tests like the Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI-R), Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS).

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Autism

Once a child has been diagnosed with an autistic disorder, treatment will begin immediately. While there isn't a cure for autism, there are many treatment methods to help treat the side effects of the disorder. It is extremely important that a medical professional is consulted about one's condition. The process of living with this disease is a lifelong one and can be difficult. However, with the help of a doctor, specifics can be sorted out and various treatment methods suggested which will make living with Autism a little easier for both the patients themselves and their loved ones.

Some treatment methods include: medications, applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech-language therapy, physical therapy and behavioral occupational therapy. Medications are administered to treat side effects of autism like anxiety, attention issues, aggression, compulsions, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, mood swings, insomnia and tantrums. Home treatment options include dietary changes, such as being on a gluten-free diet and going through behavioral training.