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Autism is a serious disorder of neural development that is typically characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behavior. First signs of autism usually start before the child is three years old, but most of the parents fail to recognize these symptoms as signs of a severe developmental failure. According to official statistics, about 9 in 1000 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. There is no cure for autism, but early detection and early intervention can help autistic children gain certain very important skills such as self-care, communication and social skills.

Early signs of autism

There are a few very early signs that indicate a child should be evaluated for autism. It is very important to seek medical help and make sure the child is developing correctly. Some of the warning signs may appear in the first year of baby’s life and typically manifest as lack of communication with the environment. For example, the baby won’t show any joyful expressions, such as smiles, by six months or thereafter. Babies with autism do not share sounds, smiles and other facial expressions with others. They typically do not babble by 12 months, or share gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving. In many cases, these children do not speak before they reach 16 months, and they are unable to compose two-word meaningful phrases by two years. However, sometimes the child can acquire certain social or language skills and then suddenly lose it at any age. This is also considered a red flag for autism and should be taken with extreme attention. Parents may also notice their child displays many forms of repetitive or restricted behavior such as hand flapping, making sounds, head rolling, or body rocking. The child may express signs of compulsive behavior, such as arranging objects in stack or lines, while showing the resistance to change and becoming irritable if something arranged was moved or interrupted.

What causes autism? Can it be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent autism. Doctors are still unsure what exactly causes it, and there are different levels of severity and combinations of symptoms in autism. Most of the experts agree that various genetic components may cause autism on their own or possibly in combination with exposure to as yet undetermined environmental factors. Small number of cases is associated with genetic disorders such as Fragile X, Tuberous Sclerosis, and Angelman's Syndrome. To decrease the risk of environmental factors, pregnant women should avoid taking medications during pregnancy without consulting with a doctor. Moreover, pregnant women should not drink any alcohol, since there is no safe level for alcohol consumption in pregnancy.

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