Control and Prevention say autism may affect as many as 1 in every 150 children, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.

Classified as a severe neurodevelopmental disorder with early childhood onset, the symptoms produce significant impairments in social, communicative, cognitive and behavioral functioning. According to Steven Moldin, Ph.D., research professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, these symptoms typically last through a person¹s lifetime. Many scientists believe that both genes and environmental factors play a role in the development of autism, but to date no specific genetic or environmental risk factor has been clearly established as a cause of the condition, Moldin says.

There are no cures for autism, but pharmacological, behavioral and psychosocial interventions can change the course of the disorder, he says. Some of the current treatment options include occupational therapy, dietary restrictions, sensory integration therapy and speech therapy, with most interventions featuring highly structured educational programs aimed at improving communication and social skills.

³The earlier the intervention, the greater chance of a positive effect on long-term outcome, Moldin says.

According to Moldin, some early warning signs to look for include:

-- losing or not having speech around 18 months
-- little to no eye contact
-- loss or lack of gestures
-- repetitive speech or actions
-- unusual reactions to the way things look, feel, smell, taste or sound

Proper and comprehensive assessment is essential,² says Moldin. ³It is very important to recognize the early signs of autism and seek early intervention services.

If you suspect autism in your child, he suggests that you seek out autism experts autism and related developmental disorders medical centers, hospitals or programs across the country.

University of Southern California