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Autism Spectrum Disorder

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism (say: AW-tiz-um) spectrum disorder is a difference in the way a kid's brain develops. Kids with autism may have trouble understanding the world around them.

What's It Like to Have Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A kid with autism might have trouble:

  • talking and learning the meaning of words
  • making friends or fitting in
  • dealing with changes (like trying new foods, having a substitute teacher, or having toys moved from their normal places)
  • dealing with loud noises, bright lights, or crowds

Kids also might move in an unusual way (like flapping their hands) or do the same thing over and over (like saying the same word).

A kid with autism may have a little trouble with these things, or a lot. Some kids need only a little bit of help, and others might need a lot of help with learning and doing everyday stuff.

What Causes Autism?

Autism is something people are born with. No one knows exactly what causes it. It probably has something to do with a kid's genes and other things that change the way the brain develops.

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

Doctors check babies and little kids for signs of autism at every checkup. A parent may think that something is wrong and tell the doctor. Maybe the child is old enough to speak but doesn't. Or a kid doesn't seem interested in people or plays in unusual ways.

When a doctor thinks a kid might have autism, he or she will work with a team of experts to see if it is autism or something else.

How Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Treated?

There is no cure for autism, but treatment can make a big difference. The younger kids are when they start treatment, the better.

Doctors, therapists, and special education teachers can help kids learn to talk, play, and learn. Therapists also help kids learn about making friends, taking turns, and getting along.

What if My Friend Has Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Some people with ASD do not feel that they have a disorder and don't want to change. They're proud of who they are and they want to be accepted, even though they may have different strengths and weaknesses than most other people.

All people deserve respect. But kids with ASD may be teased, bullied, or left out because they're different. Bullying and teasing are never the right way to treat other people, but it may be hard to be a friend with someone who has ASD.

Kids with ASD often don't understand playful jokes. You may need to be very clear when you communicate with someone who has ASD.

Try to be patient and kind. Remember how hard it might be for the person with ASD to understand how to be a friend. Stand up for classmates who are bullied. Tell adults, so they can help protect kids who are bullied.

Reviewed by: Diane E. Treadwell-Deering, MD
Date Reviewed: 18-03-2019

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