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Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum

disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood — usually before age 3. Though

symptoms and severity vary, all autism conditions affect a child's ability to

communicate and interact with others.

It's estimated that three to six out of every 1,000 children in the United States have autism — and the number of diagnosed cases is rising. It's not clear whether this is due to better detection and reporting of autism, a real increase in the number of cases, or both.

What are the three main symptoms of Autism?

Children with autism generally have challenges in three crucial areas of development

social interaction, language, and behavior. But because the symptoms of autism

vary greatly, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have

strikingly different skills. In most cases, though, the most severe autism is marked by

a complete inability to communicate or interact with other people.

What are the signs of Autism?

Though each child with autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior, these characteristics

are common signs of the disorder. Please note the child may or may not have all these characteristics. A formal assessment is needed to diagnose the child.

Social skills

  • Fails to respond to his or her name

  • Has poor eye contact

  • Appears not to hear you at times

  • Resists cuddling and holding

  • Appears unaware of others' feelings

  • Seems to prefer playing alone — retreats into his or her "own world"


  • Starts talking later than other children

  • Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences

  • Does not make eye contact when making requests

  • Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm — may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech

  • Can't start a conversation or keep one going

  • May repeat words or phrases verbatim but doesn't understand how to use them


  • Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping

  • Develops specific routines or rituals

  • Becomes disturbed at the slightest change in routines or rituals

  • Moves constantly

  • May be fascinated by parts of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car

  • May be unusually sensitive to light, sound, and touch and yet oblivious to pain

At what age is Autism diagnosed?

Many children show signs of autism in early infancy. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life but then suddenly become withdrawn, aggressive, or lose language skills they've already acquired.

Young children with autism also have a hard time sharing experiences with others.

When read to, for example, they're unlikely to point at pictures in the book. This

early-developing social skill is crucial to later language and social development.

What happens to autistic kids when they grow up?

As they mature, some children with autism become more engaged with others and

show less marked disturbances in behavior. Some, usually those with the least severe

problems, eventually may lead normal or near-normal lives. Others, however,

continue to have great difficulty with language or social skills, and the adolescent

years can mean a worsening of behavior problems.

The majority of children with autism are slow to acquire new knowledge or skills and

some have signs of lower than normal intelligence. Other children with autism have

normal to high intelligence. These children learn quickly yet have trouble

communicating, applying what they know in everyday life, and adjusting to social


An extremely small number of children with autism are "autistic savants"

and have exceptional skills in a specific area, such as art, math, or music.

How does a child get autism?

Autism has no single, known cause. Given the complexity of the disease, the range of

autistic disorders, and the fact that no two children with autism are alike, it's probable

that there are many causes.

These may include:

  1. Genetic errors: Researchers have discovered a number of genes that appear to be involved in autism. Some may make a child more susceptible to the disorder; others affect brain development or the way brain cells communicate. Still, others may determine the severity of symptoms. Each genetic error may account for a small number of cases, but taken together, the influence of genes may be substantial. Some genetic errors seem to be inherited, whereas others occur spontaneously.

  2. Environmental factors: Many health problems are due to both genetic and environmental factors, and this is likely the case with autism as well. Researchers are currently exploring whether viral infections and air pollutants, for instance, play a role in triggering autism.

  3. Other causes: Other factors under investigation include problems during labor and delivery and the role of the immune system in autism. Some researchers believe that damage to the amygdala — a portion of the brain that serves as a danger detector — may play a role in autism.

One of the greatest controversies in autism centers on whether a link exists between

autism and certain childhood vaccines, particularly the measles-mumps-rubella

(MMR) vaccine and vaccines with thimerosal, a preservative that contains a small

amount of mercury. Though most children's vaccines have been free of thimerosal

since 2001, the controversy continues. To date, extensive studies have found no link

between autism and vaccines.

Which parent is responsible for Autism?

Autism affects children of all races and nationalities, but certain factors are known to

increase a child's risk. They include:

  • Your child's sex: Studies show that boys are three to four times more likely to develop autism than girls are.

  • Family history: Families who have one child with autism have an increased risk of having another child with the disorder. It's also not uncommon for the parents or relatives of an autistic child to have minor problems with social or communication skills themselves or to engage in certain autistic behaviors. (Read more)

  • Other disorders: Children with certain medical conditions have a higher than normal risk of having autism. These conditions include fragile X syndrome, an inherited disorder that causes intellectual impairment; tuberous sclerosis, a condition in which benign tumors develop in the brain; the neurological disorder Tourette syndrome; and epilepsy, which causes seizures.

  • Paternal age: Research increasingly suggests that having an older father may increase a child's risk of autism. One large study showed that children born to men 40 years or older were almost six times more likely to have autism spectrum disorder than were children born to men younger than 30 years.

  • Maternal age, on the other hand, seems to have little effect on autism risk.

When to seek medical advice for Autism

Babies develop at their own pace, and many don't follow exact timelines found in

some parenting books. But children with autism usually show some signs of delayed

development by 18 months. If you suspect that your child may have autism, discuss

your concerns with your doctor. The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it

will be.

Your doctor may recommend further evaluation if your child:

  • Doesn't babble or coo by 12 months

  • Doesn't gesture — such as point or wave — by 12 months

  • Doesn't say a single word by 16 months

  • Doesn't say two-word phrases within 24-30 months

  • Loses previously acquired language or social skills at any age

Tests and diagnosis for Autism

Your child's doctor will look for signs of developmental delays at regular checkups. If

your child shows some signs of autism, you may be referred to a specialist in treating

children with autism. This specialist, working with a team of professionals, can

perform a formal evaluation for the disorder.

Because autism varies widely in severity and manifestations, making a diagnosis may

be difficult. There isn't a specific medical test to pinpoint the disorder. Instead, a

formal evaluation consists of an expert observing your child and talking to you about

how your child's social skills, language skills, and behavior have developed and

changed over time. To help reach a diagnosis, your child may undergo a number of

developmental tests covering speech, language, and psychological issues.

Although the signs of autism often appear by 18 months, the diagnosis sometimes

isn't made until age 2 or 3, when there may be more obvious delays in language

development and social interactions. Early diagnosis is important because early

intervention — preferably before age 3 — seems to be associated with the best chance

for significant improvement.

What is the best treatment for Autism?

" What is clear is that though there is no cure for autism, intensive, early treatment can make an enormous difference in the lives of many children with the disorder."

No cure exists for autism, and there is no "one-size-fits-all" treatment. In fact, the

range of home-based and school-based treatments and interventions for autism can be


Your doctor can help identify resources in your area that may work for your child.

Types of therapy for Autism

Speech therapy

Speech therapy helps address the range of social, language, and behavioral difficulties associated with autism. Some programs focus on reducing problem behaviors

and teaching new skills. Other programs focus on teaching children how to act in social situations or how to communicate better with other people. Though children don't outgrow autism, they may learn to function well with the disorder.

Few of the evidence-based approaches used at Sounderic:

Naturalistic Language Strategies:

Naturalistic Language Strategies are child-centered and take place during naturally occurring routines and activities. The approach promotes communication and language development through environmental arrangement, responsive communication partners, prompting, modeling, and reinforcement.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS):

PECS is a behaviorally based, alternative communication system based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and B.F.Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. PECS teaches the child to become an initiator of communication by exchanging a picture symbol for the desired object, etc.

Social Narratives:

Social narratives are interventions that describe social situations in some detail by highlighting relevant cues and offering examples of appropriate responses.

Imitation and Modeling:

Imitation and modeling are prerequisite skills for the development of various skills including communication.

Social skills program

The following strategies will be used to teach specific social skills during a social skills training session:

  • Modeling of skilled social behaviour using videos or live role play

  • Discussing and showing multiple examples of skilled social behaviour in various contexts

  • Asking children to role-play and providing feedback on their performance

  • Using games or situations that are relevant, engaging, and interesting to the child.

Read more about online speech therapy for autism here.

Educational therapies

Children with autism often respond well to highly structured education programs. Successful programs often include a team of specialists and a variety of activities to improve social skills, communication, and behavior. Preschool children who receive intensive, individualized

behavioral interventions show good progress.

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. Because autism is a devastating and so far incurable disease, many parents seek out alternative therapies. Though some families have reported good results with special diets and other complementary approaches, studies have not been able to confirm or deny the usefulness of these treatments.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is vital for your child with autism to work on attention, memory, fine motor- gross motor difficulties, activities of daily living, and handwriting. An occupational therapist will help the child with sensory-processing disorders.

Some of the most common alternative therapies include:

1. Creative therapies: Some parents choose to supplement educational and

medical intervention with art therapy, music therapy, or sensory integration,

which focuses on reducing a child's sensitivity to touch or sound.

2. Special diets: Several diet strategies have been suggested as possible

treatments for autism, including restriction of food allergens; probiotics; a

yeast-free diet; a gluten-free, casein-free diet; and dietary supplements such as

vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and magnesium, folic acid, vitamin B12, and

omega-3 fatty acids. The diet that has been tried most extensively — and with

the greatest anecdotal success — eliminates gluten — a protein found in most

grains, including wheat — and casein (a milk protein). To learn more, talk to a

a registered dietitian with special expertise in autism.

Coping and support for Autism

Raising a child with autism can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining.

These ideas may help:

1. Find a team of trusted professionals: You'll need to make important

decisions about your child's education and treatment. Find a team of teachers

and therapists who can help evaluate the options in your area and explain the

federal regulations regarding children with disabilities. Make certain this team

includes a case manager or service coordinator, who can help access financial

services and government programs.

2. Take time for yourself and other family members: Caring for a child with

autism can be a round-the-clock job that puts stress on your marriage and your

whole family. To avoid burnout, take time out to relax, exercise, or enjoy your

favorite activities. Try to schedule one-on-one time with your other children

and plan date nights with your spouse — even if it's just watching a movie

together after the children go to bed.

3. Seek out other families of autistic children: Other families struggling with

the challenges of autism can be a source of useful advice. Many communities

have support groups for parents and siblings of children with autism.

4. Learn about the disorder: There are many myths and misconceptions about

autism. Learning the truth can help you better understand your child and his or

her attempts to communicate. With time, you'll likely be rewarded by seeing

your child grow and learn and even show affection — in his or her own way.

We would love to be a part of your journey. Let's speak today. Share your story with Autism in the comments below.

Sounderic provides online speech therapy sessions for Autism. We would love to help you. Get in touch with us on WhatsApp at +919644466635 email us at or schedule a consultation with us at

Follow us on Facebook, and Instagram or join our community of 18,000 parents from all across the world here, "Speech therapy guide for parents".


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