From your health and wellness experts at Prisma Health
Health, Parenting

Understanding autism in children

Palmetto Health-USC Child Development and Behavioral Health
April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to reflect on this complex disorder, understand the causes and know what to do if you think your child may be affected.
According to Robin Welsh, MD, of Palmetto Health-USC Child Development and Behavioral Health: “Knowing the signs and symptoms can help parents and primary care physicians get a child evaluated as soon as possible."
What is Autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction and a child’s ability to communicate. Other common signs include repetitive behaviors and acute sensitivity to touch or sounds. Not all cases are the same: the severity ranges from mild to severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 44 percent of children identified as having autism spectrum disorder have average to above average intelligence. Boys are affected four times more than girls, but the condition knows no bounds when it comes to race or the socio-economic status of families. 
What causes Autism?
There is still a lot we don’t know about the causes of autism. Genetics can be a factor. Also, the following risk factors can increase the chances:
  • Advanced age of the mother or father
  • Exposure during pregnancy to alcohol and certain drugs
  • Obesity and diabetes in the mother
  • Anti-seizure drugs during pregnancy
In spite of some reported concern, currently there is no evidence that vaccinations cause autism.
What are the signs of Autism?
Typically, signs of autism appear in the first three years of a child’s life, but there are cases when symptoms appear later, as old as 18.
Some common signs include:
  • Disinterest in social interactions
  • Unaware of other people and what’s going on around them
  • Seeming not to hear when spoken to
  • Aversion to being touched
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Odd tones or rhythms to voice
  • Repetition of the same words or phrases
  • Repetition of actions and movements
  • Obsessively lining up toys or focusing for long periods of time on moving objects such as fan blades or spinning wheels
  • Repeating questions rather than answering them
What can I do?
"Early diagnosis is critical,” says Dr. Welsh. “If diagnosed early, affected children can begin intensive therapies to reduce the effects of autism.”
Developmental delays are not always a sign of autism, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. As a parent, your daily observations are critical. If your child is taking longer than normal to reach developmental milestones, see your pediatrician immediately.