Autism is a disorder in an individual's neural development and often appears in the first 3 years of life. It alters the connection and organization of nerve cells and synapses, affecting the normal development of social and communication skills. These changes in the brain's functions cause delays or problems in the development of skills from infancy to adulthood. Autistic individuals tend to have difficulties with social interaction and various forms of communication, and instead focus on odd, repetitive and restricted activities. This condition is linked to the abnormal biology and chemistry of the brain, but what causes these abnormalities is unknown. The involvement of genetics in the development of autism in children is unclear.
Autism causes impaired social interaction and communication and is characterized by restricted and repetitive behavior. The condition of autism causes concern in parents when they notice that their children do not develop at the same rate as other babies. By the time a child is 18 months, some of the signs of autism become more apparent. By age 2, parents often seek help from doctors. Parents notice the abnormalities that autism causes in children, such as the inability to make eye contact with others and the preference to play alone instead of with other children. It was found that autism causes difficulties with pretend play, and the slower development of communication skills, particularly speech. Autistic children may also have heightened responses to sensory stimuli; for instance, an autistic child will refuse to wear an itchy sweater and may throw a tantrum when asked to wear it. But it should be noted that while some children develop normal social and language skills, parents must still be sensitive to sudden changes in their child's development patterns, because autism causes regression in social and development skills. This means that autistic children lose the language and social skills they have gained.
Some parents fear that diagnosing a child with autism causes labeling that may have a detrimental effect on the child's self-esteem. However, by not diagnosing the child, it makes it more difficult to provide him with the proper support and treatment. The early diagnosis of the condition and implementation of the proper treatment program can improve the outlook for autistic children by providing them with the skills to cope with their condition. A successful treatment program is directed towards the specific needs of each individual child and may be composed of a mix of applied behavior analysis, medication, and therapy. These measures are designed to help the autistic individuals achieve normal development functionality. Some statewide programs, such as TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Relation Communication Handicapped Children), are designed to improve the child's adaptation skills by teaching them how to structure their environments and work independently. There are no drugs to cure autism, rather, the medication prescribed only targets the treatment of the behavioral manifestations of autism, such as aggression, anxiety, attention problems, hyperactivity, irritability, mood swings, outbursts, sleeping problems and extreme, uncontrollable compulsions. Examples of medication for autistic individuals include risperidone for irritability and aggression, and SSRIs or mood stabilizers.