A few decades ago, few people had heard of autism. In fact, it has only had a name since the 1940s. Today, one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism. It has become an important concern for every parent.

Once a sorely misunderstood mental disorder, autism has been the subject of numerous studies over the past several years. There is still much that is not understood about it, but doctors have put together a list of symptoms that we can look for in our children. This increase in information about autism has led to an increase in early detection, and early detection is important to the effectiveness of treatment.

While most parents whose children have autism notice that something is amiss, many of them brush it off as simply being a little behind other children their age. By understanding the signs of autism, we can get the right diagnosis earlier, making it easier for us to get our children the help they need. Here are some things to look for in your child:

* Impaired social interaction – This is the most noticeable sign in many autistic children. It can manifest itself in a number of ways. The child might speak late, rarely or in an unusual manner. He might be reluctant to make eye contact with others, or he might have trouble recognizing the feelings of others. He also might not respond when someone calls his name. Children with autism may display little interest in interactive play with others, preferring to remain “in their own world”.

* Obsessive or repetitive behavior – Children with autism often have their own little rituals that they abide by which may not make sense to anyone else. They might twirl their hair constantly, or repeat certain sayings over and over. Some bang their heads or bite themselves, which can be particularly troubling.

* Sensory abnormalities – Many autistic children are overly sensitive to sound, touch, and other stimuli. They are often resistant to hugging and other physical displays of affection, and they may become severely agitated and inconsolable when they hear loud noises. In contrast, sometimes autistic children have reduced sensitivity to pain.

These signs do not necessarily mean that your child has autism, but they should be mentioned to his doctor. The earlier a child is diagnosed with autism or a related disorder, the greater the chances that treatment will be effective. Early intervention can slow the disorder’s progress and help the child and family learn how to cope, leading to a higher level of functioning.

Autism is a scary subject for parents today, but it is one that must be addressed. While there is currently no cure, new treatments are being discovered all the time. But early diagnosis is the key to their optimal effectiveness.

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