Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, and not a disease. Children with autism have difficulty with social interaction, language acquisition, and communication. Boys and girls with autism struggle to interact with their surroundings. The emotions necessary for close relationships are impaired in autistic children.
Autism is a difficult disorder to diagnose. Shy, socially awkward children may have mild autism. Severe autism leaves children unable to care for themselves and lead independent lives. As a diagnosis of autism labels a child for life, doctors are often hesitant to apply such labels to boys and girls with mild symptoms.
Autism in Children and Infants
Child autism symptoms may be present from birth. In other cases, children may develop at a normal rate until they are two or three years old. Their verbal and social skills then regress, and autism symptoms develop.
Children with autism avoid eye contact and do not babble and coo like other infants. They have difficulty learning to talk, and may not talk until after their second birthday. Babies with autism may reject cuddling and physical contact. Learning, attention, and sensory disorders are common in autistic children.
Prevalence of Child Autism in Boys and Girls
Child autism can affect both boys and girls. The prevalence of autism is much higher in boys than girls. Boys are four times more likely than girls to develop the disorder.
Increasing Child Autism Prevalence
Child autism prevalence rates are difficult to determine, in part because many doctors are unwilling to apply life-long labels to young children. Mild cases of the disorder may be assigned other diagnostic labels.
According to the Autism Society of America (ASA), anywhere between 500,000 to 1,500,000 Americans suffer from autism.
Autism prevalence is rising. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that autism prevalence is increasing by ten to seventeen percent a year, leading the ASA to predict a prevalence of four million by 2020.
Autism prevalence is not influenced by race, culture, or geographic location. Incidence rates are the same internationally.
Asperger’s and Pervasive Developmental Disorder
Child autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, or PDD. PDD labels cover a range of autism-like disorders. If autism is suspected, but the symptoms are mild, Asperger’s syndrome may be the cause. Children with Asperger’s syndrome have impaired social skills and difficulty with social relationships. However, the language delays common to autism are not present, and the children possess average to above average intellectual abilities.
Child Autism Myths
Misunderstandings about child autism abound. Popular thought labels children with autism as choosing to act the way they do, and is equally likely to apply “bad parent” labels to autistic children’s parents. Neither of these labels is true. Autism is not the result of poor parenting, nor are the children affected simply being “stubborn,” or “lacking discipline.”
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Connecticut Center for Health. (nd). Information on autism. Retrieved October 14, 2003, from www.connecticutcenterforhealth.com/autism.html.
Dunlap, E., Bunton-Pierce, M. (1999). Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). [ERIC EC Digest #E583]. Retrieved October 14, 2003, from ericec.org/digests/e583.html.
Grandin, T. (1998). Frequently asked questions about autism. Retrieved October 14, 2003, from www.autism.org/temple/faq.html.
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. (1998). Pervasive developmental disorders. Retrieved October 3, 2003, from www.nichcy.org/pubs/factshe/fs20txt.htm#define.