Robin Welsh, MD
Palmetto Health-USC Child Development and Behavioral Health
Autism spectrum disorder is a disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction and a child’s ability to communicate. Autism symptoms begin during childhood, then eventually make it harder for people that are diagnosed to function in society. No two autism cases are the same: the severity ranges from mild to severe, and each person diagnosed has their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. Some people with autism may need significant assistance in their day-to-day activities, while others can live independently. 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. Robin Welsh, MD, Palmetto Health-USC Child Development and Behavioral Health, shared the following information:
What causes autism?
There is still a lot we don’t know about the causes of autism, however, there are many known genetic disorders associated with autism. Boys are diagnosed at a rate four times higher than girls, but the condition knows no bounds when it comes to race or the socio-economic status of families. Also, the following risk factors are associated with increased rates of autism:
- Advanced age of the mother or father.
- Exposure during pregnancy to alcohol and certain drugs.
- Maternal obesity and diabetes.
- Anti-seizure drugs during pregnancy.
Some people have had concerns that autism spectrum disorder might be linked to the vaccines children receive, but multiple studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing autism.
What are the signs of autism?
Autism is often referred to as a “developmental disorder” because symptoms typically appear in the first two to three years of life, but sometimes, the symptoms are not impairing until later in childhood. Some common symptoms include:
- Seeming not to hear when spoken to.
- Avoiding eye contact.
- Unusual intonation when speaking.
- Repetition of the same words or phrases.
- Repetition of actions and movements such as hand flapping.
- Obsessively lining up toys or focusing for long periods of time on part of objects, such as fan blades or spinning wheels.
- Repeating questions rather than answering them.
- Difficulty understanding social rules.
- Difficulty making and keeping friends.
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 address concerns. As a parent, your daily observations are critical. If your child is taking longer than normal to reach developmental milestones, see your pediatrician immediately.
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