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Disease: Autism Autism
Category: Psychiatric diseases
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Disease Definition:

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is a group of serious developmental problems that appear before the age of three, one of which is autism.

These disorders varies in signs, symptoms and severity levels but all autism disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

The reason behind the increasing cases of autism could be either a real increase in the number of cases, better detection and reporting of autism, or both.

It is clear that early and intensive treatment of autism could make an enormous difference in the lives of many children suffering from autism, though there is still no cure for it.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Social interaction, language and behavior are the three areas in which children suffering with autism have problems with. The most severe autism cases are marked by a complete inability of communication or interaction with other people.

It is observed that two children with the same diagnosis may have strikingly different skills and act quite differently because the signs and symptoms of autism are greatly varied.

Signs of autism in children could be usually observed from early infancy, other children could suddenly become aggressive, withdrawn or lose language skills they have acquired, even though they have developed normally for the first few months or years of their lives.

Usually, each child suffering from autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior, in spite of that common signs of the disorder could be seen in these characteristics:


  • The child may appear not to hear a person talking to them at times
  • Could appear unaware of the feelings of others
  • Doesn’t respond to his/her name
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Prefers playing alone
  • Resists cuddling and holding
  • Retreats into his/her “own world”
  • Is unable to keep a conversation going or even to start one
  • Starts talking later than other children
  • Loses the ability to say words or sentences previously acquired
  • When making requests, doesn’t make eye contact
  • Doesn’t understand words or phrases, despite repeating them word by word
  • Uses an abnormal tone or rhythm when speaking, such as singsong voice or robot-like speech
  • Constantly moves
  • Develops unique and specific rituals or routines
  • When slight and tiny changes occur in rituals or routines he/she becomes very disturbed
  • May be oblivious to pain, yet unusually sensitive to sound, touch and light
  • Performs repetitive movements, such as spinning, hand-flapping or rocking
  • Becomes fascinated by parts of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car
  • Young children with autism are unlikely to point at pictures when being read to, because they usually have a hard time sharing experiences with others. The early developing of social skill is essential to later social and language development.

Some children with autism show less marked disturbances in behavior as they mature and become more engaged with others. Children suffering from the least severe problems could eventually lead normal or at least near-normal lives. However, other children continue having great difficulty with social skills or language, and behavior problems could get even worse in adolescent years.

Some children suffering from autism have a rate of normal to high intelligence, they learn quickly but still have trouble applying their knowledge in everyday life, communicating and adjusting in social situations. Most children with autism have signs of lower than normal intelligence and are slow to acquire new knowledge and skills.

“Autistic savants” are children with autism who have exceptional skills in a specific area, such as music, art or math, but these are extremely small in number.


Because of the complexity of this disease, the range of autistic disorders and the fact that no two children with autism are alike, no single cause has been known, meaning that it’s quite possible that there are many causes. These may include:

Environmental factors:
It is likely that autism is due to both genetic and environmental factors. Researchers are currently exploring whether viral infections and air pollutants, for instance, play a role in triggering autism.

Genetic errors:
A number of genes have been discovered that appear to be involved in autism. Some of these genes affect brain development or the way brain cells communicate, others may make a child more susceptible and vulnerable to this disorder. There are also other genes that determine the severity of the symptoms. Some of these genetic errors occur spontaneously, yet others seem to be inherited. Each of these genetic errors accounts for a small number of cases, but when considered together, the influence of genes could be significant.

Other causes:
It is believed that damage to the amygdala, which is a part of the brain that serves as a danger detector, may play a role in autism. Other factors being investigated are problems during labor and the role of the immune system in autism.

There is a major controversy that focuses on the existence of a link between autism and certain childhood vaccines, specially the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) and other vaccines containing thimerosal, which is a preservative that contains a small amount of mercury .The controversy continues, though most children’s vaccines have been free of thimerosal since 2001. Till today, no link has been found between autism and vaccines.





The range of home-based and school-based interventions and treatments for this disease can be overwhelming, but there is no cure for autism. Resources in the area that may work for a child can be identified by a doctor. Treatment options include:

Therapies of Behavior and Communication:
Though children don’t outgrow autism, they may learn to function well with the disorder. For that reason, many programs are being developed to address the range of behavioral, social and language difficulties associated with autism. Some of these programs focus on how to communicate better with other people and how to act in social situations. Other programs work on teaching new skills and reducing problem behaviors.

Drug Therapies:
No medication can improve the core signs of autism, but certain medications can help control symptoms. Antidepressants may be prescribed for anxiety, for example, and antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used to treat severe behavioral problems.

Educational Therapies:
Children suffering from autism respond mostly well to highly structured education programs. Children receiving intensive and individualized behavioral interventions in preschool show good progress. A team of specialists and a variety of activities are included in successful programs to improve the child’s social skills, communication and behavior.

Many parents seek out alternative therapies, as autism is a devastating disorder that doesn't have a cure till now.

Though good results have been reported with special diets and other complementary approaches, studies haven’t been able to confirm or deny the usefulness of these treatments. The most common alternative therapies include:

Chelation Therapy:
Though this therapy has not been proved to be safe or effective, it is still recommended by some doctors and parents. This treatment is said to remove mercury from the body, but studies still haven’t shown a link between mercury and autism.

Creative Therapies:
Educational and medical intervention is supplemented by some parents with music therapy, art therapy or sensory integration, which works on reducing a child’s sensitivity to touch or sound.

Special Diets:
There are several diet strategies that have been suggested as possible treatments for autism, including restriction of food allergens, such as probiotics, yeast-free diet, gluten-free diet, casein-free diet, and dietary supplements, such as vitamin A, C, B16, B6 and magnesium, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
The most extensively tried diet with the greatest anecdotal success eliminates gluten, which is a protein found in most grains including wheat, and casein, a milk protein. For more information a person could talk to a registered dietitian with special expertise in autism.


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