By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Autism is not a disease, but a developmental disorder of brain function. It is usually identified by the time a child is anywhere from 30 months old to three years of age. More often than not, it is discovered when parents become concerned that their child does not appear to be normal like other children. Most common concerns are that the child may be deaf, is not yet talking, resists cuddling, and avoids interaction with others.

The various syndromes of autism have been called infantile autism, autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and childhood psychosis. The basic criteria for the autistic syndromes are as follows:

1. Early onset (before 3-5 years of age)
2. Severe abnormality of reciprocal social relatedness
3. Severe abnormality of communication development
4. Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, activities, and Imagination; and possibly
5. Abnormal responses to sensory stimuli.

Many areas can be affected by autism, such as:

Communication: Language develops slowly or not at all; uses meaningless words or words that mean something else in that particular reference; gesticulates instead of verbally talking; possesses short attention span.

Social Interaction: Child is often a loner; is not interested in making friends; less responsive to social etiquettes such as eye contact or smiles.

Sensory Impairment: Child may have sensitivities in the areas of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste to a greater or lesser degree.

Play: A lack of spontaneous or imaginative plays; does not mimic others' actions; does not initiate pretend games.

Behaviors: Child may be hyper-active or very passive; throws tantrums for no apparent reason; excessively perseverant (shows an obsessive interest in a single item, idea, activity or person); perceptible lack of common sense; aggressive behavior; can't easily adapt to a different routine or environment.

The cause of autism remains unknown, although current theories indicate a problem with the function or structure of the central nervous system. However, autism is not transferred genetically from parents to their children.

While there is no cure for autism, appropriate treatment can have a positive impact on the child's development and produce an overall reduction in disruptive behaviors and symptoms.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,