No parent wants to contemplate that their child may be suffering from autism, a devastating developmental disorder that is anticipated to affect more than one in 150 children in the United States. The affliction is thought to affect children from birth or the very first few months of life, and typically results in an abnormal development in the areas of language and communication, activities, and social interaction. Whilst there is no cure for autism, there are very many different therapies and procedures available to help mitigate its effects; early diagnosis is very important.
As it is often very difficult for parents to analyze the intricate behaviors of their newborn child, it is also extremely difficult to determine whether the child is autistic or not. As all elements of behavior are immature in young babies, including the ability to communicate, to form relationships and to participate in general day-to-day activities, it can take time to identify deviations from the norm. There are also a wide variety of symptoms, other factors and possibly other illnesses present, further complicating the ability to diagnose. Sadly, if autism is present in children with above-average mental ability, unusual behavior or related abnormalities may be dismissed.
Whilst there is no absolute cure for autism, its cause also remains unknown. Most experts believe that prenatal damage to the brain is the most likely culprit. Some believe that the condition is not present at birth, whilst others believe that it can be caused by external factors, such as the introduction of chemicals during routine vaccinations, for example.
The importance of early identification cannot be over-stressed. Should behaviors deviate far from the normal pattern of development, treatment and adjustment may be difficult. The child can resist any efforts to change behavior. It is rather unusual to achieve a diagnosis of autism before the age of two years. Thus, many experts are calling for specialist training to be given to primary care workers and family doctors, to enable them to recognize signs at the earliest possible age. Parents, especially those with no other children, do not know what to expect and can often not judge whether or not the baby is developing "normally".
Studies suggest that there could be two distinct types of autistic infant. On the one hand, there is a very quiet and undemanding child and on the other hand a very troubled baby who cannot be pacified and exhibits tantrums and behavior outbursts. The child may show aggression, anger, or may kick or hit others or animals. Other behaviors may be displayed, such as banging heads, constantly rocking back and forth, or scratching at blankets. The child may be fascinated by shiny objects yet appear to be disinterested in the majority of regular stimulants - objects or people.
During a clinical study of 28 cases dealing with autistic symptoms in very young children, a 1990 study suggested that it is possible to recognize autism in infancy. In particular, three areas should be observed.
Gaze: the study suggests that the infant will exhibit an unusual quality of gaze with this condition. The autistic baby will gaze only briefly and out of the corner of its eye.
Hearing: the autistic child will very likely not be deaf, but will exhibit symptoms as if it were. Very loud noises usually cause no reaction, but repetitive or unusual, brief sounds may invoke a lot of interest. This is potentially tied to perception abnormalities.
Social Relationships: in general, young babies tend to exhibit a particular interest in play, whilst babies with autism may show a complete lack of interest in this area and may shy away from social interaction with others. The autistic infant will likely not be easily stimulated, have a short attention span or may not show an interest in playing baby games, enjoy interaction with others or engage in communication with peers; this may be the primary pointer for parents to consider.
Early intervention remains the key to help improve the long-term prospects for the suffering child. It is important that health professionals who specialize in pediatrics understand and observe the potential characteristics and help parents to accurately diagnose and plan for the future.
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