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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects how people interact and communicate. Those with ASD might also have specific repetitive behaviors and interests. The term “spectrum” covers various symptoms and behaviors that vary from person to person. Some have milder symptoms, while others face more severe challenges.

In the United States, about 1 in every 59 eight-year-old children, on average, has been diagnosed with ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Boys are diagnosed with ASD four times more often than girls. This condition can affect children from all backgrounds, and awareness and screening methods have improved, leading to more diagnoses in recent years.

Recognizing the Signs of Autism
ASD symptoms typically appear in the first three years of life. Infants usually show social behaviors like making eye contact and responding to voices by 2-3 months of age. However, children with autism may struggle with these interactions.

Symptoms of autism can vary widely but often affect social interactions, and communication (both speaking and non-verbal), and can lead to intense focus on certain activities. These symptoms include language delays, repetitive behaviors, difficulty making eye contact, sensory sensitivities or insensitivities, trouble understanding social cues, emotional expression challenges, and more.

Understanding the Causes of Autism
The exact causes of autism are not fully known, but it seems to result from a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Genetics plays a significant role, and if a family member has autism, the risk is higher. Brain scans have revealed structural and functional differences in the brains of individuals with autism. Research continues on environmental factors, but it’s important to note that vaccines have been scientifically proven not to cause autism.

Ways to Diagnose Autism
Diagnosing autism usually involves a two-step process. First, general developmental screening is done during pediatric checkups. Children showing developmental concerns are referred for further evaluation. The second step involves a comprehensive evaluation by a team of medical professionals with expertise in various areas. Typically, children can be diagnosed with ASD by age two, but sometimes the diagnosis comes later.

Various screening tools, such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), the Screening Tool for Autism in Two-Year-Olds (STAT), the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), and the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS), are used to assess autism in toddlers and preschoolers. These tools rely on input from parents and professional observations.

Ways to Treat Autism
While there is no cure for autism, there are effective treatments available. These include educational and developmental interventions, behavioral therapies like applied behavior analysis (ABA), medication to manage associated symptoms, and alternative approaches like dietary changes.

People with autism may also have other conditions like intellectual impairments, seizures, gastrointestinal issues, and mental health conditions. Early intervention and individualized treatment plans are vital for helping individuals with ASD lead fulfilling lives.