by Michael Kabel

    Autism, a developmental disorder of the brain, is now being diagnosed in as many as one in every one thousand children. Many more children - as high as six in every one thousand - will develop Autism related symptoms. Parents are usually among the first to recognize autistic behavior during their child's first two years, even while the disease itself may remain largely misunderstood.

    In its simplest definition, Autism affects the parts of the brain that drive social interaction and communication, and typically results in highly repetitive and compulsive behavior. Autistic children and adults frequently display overwhelming desires to stack or align common objects in a certain arrangement. They will become highly upset if the order is changed. They will also insist on sameness of furniture arrangements or other items, and possibly become preoccupied with a single activity or event (such as a television program or video game). 
    Autistic sufferers often frequently bite or otherwise injure themselves and may exhibit a condition know as stereotypy: purposeless waving of arms and hands, head rolling, body rocking, or spinning a plate. This condition is also sometimes referred to as "stimming," though its diagnosis alone does not necessarily point to Autism. 
    While none of the symptoms listed above necessarily point to autism in an adult or child, the condition of autism boosts these symptoms in frequency and severity.  

    Researchers believe the roots of the disease are genetic in nature, though as yet evidence suggests there is no definite cause. Extensive research instead points to a cluster of basic deficiencies in mental growth that often overlap, resulting in behavior that can be recognized as autistic. There has been little success to date in linking autism to a single genetic malfunction, such as in other neurological and autism-related disorders. Nevertheless, inheritance is attributed to over 90% of diagnosed Autism patients. 
    While some other research points to the use of children's vaccines as a cause, no conclusive scientific evidence exists to support that theory. 

Treatments & Cure
    Autism must be detected early in order for treatment to have even partial success. Treatments are often tailored to fit the severity of the patient's condition, with applied behavioral analysis (ABA) showing great promise in battling communication and social interaction problems. ABA treatment involves the basic scientific training method of stimulus, response, and reward, and has shown great impact among preschool children.  
    There is no cure for autism, and without care and guidance many autistic sufferers face bleak futures of isolation and little hope for self-determination. Some therapy centers and special schools have had tremendous success in helping the autistic gain marketable skills and high-level social interaction, enabling them to become semi-independent, with their own jobs and responsibilities. 

Early Warning Signs
    Parents should watch carefully if they believe their toddler is exhibiting the early warning signs of autism. Some common behavioral patterns include:
- Not smiling by the age of six months
- Poor or slow response to sensory stimuli
- Lack of pointing, gestures, or babbling by the first birthday
- Lack of eye contact or anticipatory body language
- Not using single syllable words by the age of 16 months
- Not using two word phrases by the second birthday
- Loss or back sliding in social skills 

    Experts strongly caution that no one symptom is necessarily an indicator of autism within a child, and that some symptoms may refer to a class of similar problems known as autism spectrum disorders, of ASD. 

As with all child medical questions, consult a pediatrician with any questions as soon as possible.