Autism: Definition, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Types, Treatment, Prognosis and Prevention

It is a developmental disorder characterized by problems with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.

Parents usually notice signs in the first two or three years of their child’s life.

These signs often develop gradually, although some children with autism reach their developmental goals at a normal rate and then get worse.

Autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

The risk factors that may cause autism in babies include certain infections during pregnancy, such as rubella and valproic acid, alcohol or cocaine use.

Autism affects the processing of information in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses are connected and organized, how this happens is not well understood.

In the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), autism is included within the spectrum of autism (ASD), along with Asperger’s syndrome that is less severe and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, unspecified (PDD- US).

Early speech or behavioral interventions can help children with autism to acquire self-care, social and communication skills.

Although there is no known cure, there have been cases of children recovering.

Not many children with autism live independently after reaching adulthood, although some are successful.

An autistic culture has developed, with some individuals seeking a cure and others believing that autism should be accepted as a difference and not treated as a disorder.

In the 2000s, the number of people affected was estimated at 1-2 per 1,000 people worldwide.

In developed countries, approximately 1.5% of children are diagnosed with ASD and as of 2017, more than doubled, one in 150 in 2000 in the United States.

It happens four to five times more often in boys than in girls.

But many autistic girls are diagnosed later than boys, according to some research.

The number of people diagnosed has increased dramatically since the 1960s, in part due to changes in the diagnostic practice.

How do people see the autistic people?

Some autistic people say that the world feels overwhelming and this can cause them considerable anxiety.

In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and participating in the daily life of family, school, work and social life, can be very difficult.

Other people seem to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, but they may also have difficulty establishing a good relationship with other autistic people.

Autistic people may wonder why they are “different” and feel that their social differences mean that people do not understand them.

People who suffer from autism often do not “seem” disabled.

Some parents with autistic children say that other people simply think their child is bad, while adults discover that they are misunderstood.


The severity of the symptoms varies greatly, but all people with autism have some central symptoms in the areas of:

Social interactions and relationships

  • Significant problems to develop non-verbal communication skills: such as looking in the eyes, facial expressions and body posture.
  • Failure to establish friendships with children of the same age.
  • Lack of interest: in sharing enjoyment, interests or achievements with other people.
  • Lack of empathy: People with autism may have difficulty understanding another person’s feelings, such as pain or sadness.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

  • Delay to learn the language or lack thereof: up to 40% of people with autism never speak.
  • Problems taking steps to start a conversation: people with autism have difficulty continuing a conversation after it has begun.
  • Stereotyped and repetitive use of language: people with autism often repeat a phrase they have heard before, this is known as echolalia .
  • Difficulty in understanding the perspective of their listeners: for example, a person can interpret what is being said word by word but can not grasp the implicit meaning.

Limited interests in activities or games

  • An unusual approach to the pieces: younger children with autism often focus on toy parts, such as the wheels of a car, instead of playing with the whole toy.
  • Concern about certain topics: for example, older children and adults may be fascinated with video games, exchange cards or license plates.
  • A need for equality and routines: for example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before the salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.
  • Stereotyped behaviors: these may include body swinging and hand flapping.


When parents or support providers worry that their child is not following a typical developmental course, they turn to experts, including psychologists, educators, and medical professionals, for a diagnosis.

At first glance, some people with autism may appear to have an intellectual disability, sensory processing problems, or hearing or vision problems.

To complicate matters further, these conditions may coincide with autism.

However, it is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, since an accurate and early diagnosis of autism can provide the basis for an appropriate educational and treatment program.

Other medical conditions or syndromes, such as sensory processing disorder, may present symptoms that are confusingly similar to autism. This is known as a differential diagnosis.

There are many differences between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination, or school evaluation, of a disability.

The doctor makes a diagnosis based on an evaluation of symptoms and diagnostic tests.

The medical diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, for example, is most frequently performed by a physician according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5, published in 2013) of the American Psychological Association.

This manual guides doctors to diagnose autism spectrum disorder according to a specific number of symptoms.

A brief observation in a single environment can not present a real picture of someone’s abilities and behaviors.

The history of the development of the person and the contributions of parents, caregivers and / or teachers are important components of an accurate diagnosis.

An educational determination is made by a multidisciplinary evaluation team of several school professionals.

The results of the evaluation are reviewed by a team of qualified professionals and parents to determine if a student qualifies for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Types of autism

Until recently, experts talked about different types of autism, such as autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome , generalized developmental disorder not specified (PDD-NOS), etc.

But now they are all called “autistic spectrum disorders.”

The generalized disorder of unspecified development and Asperger are classified as mild autism.

Mild autism

All symptoms of autism will usually appear before the child reaches the age of three or may occur to a lesser degree in the other autistic spectrum disorders.

Those disorders that exhibit the same symptoms but to different degrees, such as Asperger syndrome and PDD-NOS, both have symptoms of mild autism, and the symptoms will continue into adulthood turning them into “pervasive developmental disorders”.

Social deficits are perhaps the main defining characteristic of all the different types of autism and the lack of capacity to think or feel from the perspective of another individual (the theory of the mind).

Essentially, autistic patients simply do not recognize that other human beings are autonomous and intelligent in the same way they are.

This lack of social interaction skills can also be seen when children and adults with autism are in normal environments, where they will show less eye contact and are less likely to show sympathy or turn appropriately in conversations.

When patients only experience symptoms of mild or Asperger’s autism, they can often build a series of ‘rules’ and ‘observations’ that allow them to predict the behavior of others and act more conventionally through a more scientific approach.

In more severe cases, however, they may be completely unable to understand human behavior or even appear completely indifferent.

There are several types of autism and these will determine precisely what symptoms are present.

Autism itself can vary greatly in severity and symptoms vary greatly within the condition.

Those who manage to behave quite normally and adapt to society and care about their own well-being are called “high functioning autistics”.

In other cases, patients with autism may be completely speechless and completely dependent on their caregivers throughout their lives.

A particularly fascinating type of autism is known as “autistic sage.”

These autistic patients exhibit all the impaired functions associated with autism, but they also possess unusual talents.

These can be almost superhuman almost in ability and include improved skills, perception, memory, musical ability and drawing.

Some autistic sages, for example, can draw complete buildings with amazing details at a glance, while others can recall the contents of hundreds of books on demand or calculate what day of the week it was on any given date.

Asperger’s syndrome is one of the least severe types of autism and the patient can usually behave almost normally despite having a less intuitive theory of mind.

Unlike other types of autism, its cognitive and linguistic development is generally not affected.

However, those who suffer from Asperger will also show restrictive and repetitive behaviors and interests, as well as difficulties in social environments.

Finally, PDD-NOS (Generalized Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) is not so much a type of autism as a general term for conditions that are clearly classified in the generalized developmental disorder classification, but not necessarily a specific autistic spectrum disorder.

In most cases, it is similar to autism with most of the same symptoms but to a lesser degree, which means that it can not be categorized as a “complete” case. It is also known as ‘atypical autism’ in some circles.

Childhood Autism

Infantile autism, although it often goes unnoticed, is quite common, it affects a child.

Autism is presented congenitally, that is, the child is born with the syndrome and although it is often difficult to distinguish a child with autism from one that is only withdrawn, the symptoms occur in most cases before the 3 years.

Apart from the symptoms mentioned above, children with autism tend to vary their behavior very easily, they are also very sensitive to certain noises and will have periods of hyperactivity.

It is essential that parents know what routines the child likes to follow and if they plan to modify or change them, it is advisable that the change is not abrupt because this can cause an outburst of despair or anger.

Childhood disintegrative disorder

This syndrome, fortunately, is quite rare and affects children who seem to have normal development from birth.

Usually between two and four years of age this changes. These children start to go back, and often do not get to learn to go to the bathroom.

They will lose the will and ability to interact with other children and lose interest in the game.

They will also have problems with motor skills that were something they once mastered.

They will stop talking, or their communication skills will go back to a certain point.

Although there are more types of autism, these tend to be the most common.

They are all things that take parents by surprise, and each one comes with its own difficulties.

Most children will need to be cared for long after their peers have established their independence, although the will to be alone is very strong.

Kanner syndrome (classic autistic disorder)

This particular type of autism was named by Dr. Kanner.
He described and studied it in the 1930s until 1940. This is the best known type of this condition and the most common.

Those who have this syndrome have a very limited emotional connection with anyone, and are very involved in their little world.

They want everything to be the same all the time, and this includes routine clothes, sometimes up to the exact minute, clothes, food and TV shows or movies.

They can be deeply affected by noise, bright lights and smells.

In general, they are considered to have low functioning, but the way their mind works is largely unknown due to extremely poor social and communication skills.

Rett syndrome

It is a rare non-hereditary genetic postnatal neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in girls and causes serious alterations that affect almost all aspects of a child’s life: their ability to speak, walk, eat and even breathe easily.

The hallmark of Rett syndrome is the almost constant movement of repetitive hands while awake.

Cognitive assessment in children with Rett syndrome is complicated, but we know that they understand much more than they can communicate to us, which is evidenced by their bright and attentive eyes, and by their ability to express a broad spectrum of moods and moods. emotions.


With appropriate services and supports, training and information, children on the spectrum of autism will grow, learn and flourish, even at a rate of development different from others.

While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that can address some of the challenges associated with the disease.

Intervention can help reduce disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills for greater independence.

But just as there is not a single symptom or behavior that identifies people with autism, there is not a single treatment that is effective for everyone on the spectrum.

People can use the positive aspects of their condition for their benefit, but treatment must begin as early as possible and focus on the strengths, weaknesses and unique needs of the individual.

Throughout the history of the Autism Society, parents and professionals have been confused by contradictory messages about what treatment options are appropriate for children and adults on the autism spectrum.


Children recover occasionally, so they lose the diagnosis of ASD, this sometimes occurs after intensive treatment and sometimes not.

It is not known how often recovery occurs, the rates reported in unselected samples of children with ASD have ranged between 3% and 25%.

Most children with autism acquire language at five years or less, although some have developed communication skills in later years.

Most children with autism lack social support, significant relationships, future job opportunities or self-determination.

Although the central difficulties tend to persist, the symptoms often become less severe with age.

Few high-quality studies address long-term prognosis.

Some adults show a modest improvement in communication skills, but some decline, no study has focused on autism after middle age.

Learning a language before age six, having an IQ above 50 and having a marketable skill predict better outcomes, independent living is unlikely with severe autism.

Most people with autism face significant obstacles in the transition to adulthood.


It is not yet known exactly what causes autism, but it is believed that genes play an important role if a child is born with it.

In rare cases, doctors also say that a baby can be born with birth defects if the mother was exposed to certain chemicals during pregnancy.

But doctors can not discover, during their pregnancy, if the baby will be born with autism.

While you can not avoid having a child with an autistic disorder, you can reduce some of your risk if you try the following lifestyle changes:

  • Live healthy : perform regular check-ups, eat well-balanced meals and exercise. Make sure you have good prenatal care and take all the recommended vitamins and supplements.
  • Do not take drugs during pregnancy : ask your doctor before taking any medication. This is especially recommended for some anticonvulsant medications.