Autism or autism spectrum disorder, is a developmental disability that affects the way a person behaves, communicates, interacts and learns. On this World Autism Awareness Day, it is important to learn more about this disorder that affects the brain, its characteristics, and the telltale signs associated with it.

Know facts about autism:

  • Autism affects 1% of children globally.
  • Autism begins before the age of 3 years and can last lifelong, although symptoms may improve over time.
  • It is a spectrum disorder, meaning the condition affects people in different ways and varying degrees.
  • Some people with autism may be able to live an independent life but others with severe disabilities may need life-long care and support.
  • Although the exact cause of the disorder is not known, genetics is believed to play a vital role. Other risk factors may include having siblings with autism, older parents, low birth weight, and certain genetic conditions, such as Down, fragile X, and Rett syndromes.
  • Studies show that exposure to air pollution or specific pesticides, maternal obesity, diabetes, or immune system disorders are potential risk factors. Additionally, birth complications that result in periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby's brain can also increase the risk.

Here are some of the signs to look out for:

Early signs of autism include limitations in social interactions and communication skills. These signs can manifest as a lack of eye contact, not responding to their name, absence of facial expressions by 9 months, an inability to engage in simple interactive games, and using few or no gestures by 12 months of age. The child may struggle to share interests with others by 15 months, fail to point at something interesting by 18 months, not notice when others are hurt or upset by two years, show no interest in playing with other children by age three, and have difficulty with pretend play by four years. Additionally, they may not show abilities like singing, dancing, or acting by 60 months of age.

They may show certain restricted or repetitive behaviors such as lining up toys or other objects, repeating words or phrases, and focusing on parts of objects. They may develop obsessive interests such as flapping hands, rocking bodies, or spinning themselves in circles. They may prefer following certain routines and can become upset when that gets disrupted. Furthermore, they might have unusual reactions to sensory stimuli, including sounds, smells, tastes, sights, or tactile sensations.

Other signs include delays in motor skills, language development, cognitive abilities, or learning skills. Children with ASD might exhibit hyperactive and impulsive behaviors, experience epilepsy, have unusual eating habits, or face gastrointestinal issues. Additionally, they may show signs of fear, anxiety, stress, excessive worry, or a lack of fear compared to their peers.