Mona Khanna, MD, MPH, explains the signs and symptoms associated with autism.
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P. Mona Khanna: Autism is one diagnosis of a large body of diagnoses which fall under the term Autism Spectrum Disorders. An Autism in fact Classic Autism is the most severe of those disorders. We also talk about children who have a condition called Asperger's Syndrome which is less severe form of Autism; basically it means there are some developmental delays that are because of some dysfunction in the brain. We don't exactly know what causes Autism but we think we know what doesn't cause Autism; in fact the Institute of Medicine recently released a comprehensive report saying there was no scientific evidence that clearly associated causation with giving vaccines to children at younger ages. This is a very controversial topic and there are many groups that are advocates of children with autism that actually think that vaccines cause or are linked to autism in some way. But there unfortunately is no scientific evidence that helps us point to what the problem is, may be a virus, may be an environmental trigger, may be a genetic predisposition, we just don't know for sure. If a child has any change in his or her behavior, if they start withdrawing and otherwise they were friendly and social and interactive, if they stop smiling, stop making eye contact, stop playing with toys specially favorite toys, if they stop listening to parents or friends and family and if they just don't engage as much as they use to, those are all red flag signs the child should be taken into the pediatrician and screened for Autism because early intervention is key to maximizing that child's ability. Children who present with an Autism Spectrum Disorder usually present before the age of 3, in other words you start seeing some of these signals, these signals interestingly enough can be either sudden, there is a sudden change in all the -- all of a sudden the child starts to withdraw when he or she had been reaching the normal milestones before or the change can be gradual, in other words as the child start growing from 6 months to a year, 18 months etc. he or she doesn't keep pace with other children for growing at those similar ages. There are not a lot of risk factors for developing an Autism Spectrum Disorder, what we do know though is that boys tend to develop it more than girls, we know that if it's in the family, in other words if you have a sibling who has been diagnosed with such then you are at a higher risk for developing it and last of all, if you have another developmental disability then you are also at a little bit of a higher risk for developing an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Unfortunately there isn't a whole lot we can do to actually treat the cause of an Autism Spectrum Disorder because we don't know what causes it. So instead what we do is, we try to help the child to cope to develop behaviors that are wanted, increase your communication skills, the roll of therapist being involved in a child who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder is very-very valid to increase the communication abilities whether it be verbal or non-verbal communication, but if a child has certain symptoms, if he or she has Attention-deficit Hyperactive Disorder, if she or he is depressed, you then treat those symptoms and we do have some medications that we can use in children for those particular symptoms. Unfortunately like I said though, there is no way to get at the cause of Autism and combine all of these treatments in one that would be able to target all of the different Behavior or Developmental Disabilities. Asperger's Syndrome is actually more common then Classic Autism and what you see here is a milder form of Classic Autism, those children may have normal intellectual function, they just had decreased interactive skills, those children may also have good vocabulary, good grammar, but they may be sensitive to some sensory stimulations such as lights, sound, taste and texture. So they may be not be as withdrawn as a child who has Classic Autism, but they do expr