Autism: Helping you understand the disorder

Posted by Heidi Stoltenberg M.D.
April 12, 2013

Autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders that appear in early childhood — usually before age 3. Though symptoms and severity vary, all autism spectrum disorders affect a child's ability to communicate and interact with others.

The number of children diagnosed with autism appears to be rising. It's not clear whether this is due to better detection and reporting of autism or a real increase in the number of cases or both.

Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development: social interaction, language and behavior. Some children show signs of autism in early infancy. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life, but then suddenly become withdrawn or aggressive or lose language skills they've already acquired.


Though each child with autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior, these are some common autism signs:

Social skills

  • Fails to respond to his or her name
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Appears not to hear you at times
  • Resists cuddling and holding


  • Doesn't speak or has delayed speech
  • Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences


  • Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping
  • Develops specific routines or rituals and becomes disturbed at the slightest change
  • May perform activities that could cause self-harm, such as headbanging

Please contact your child’s health care provider to schedule an appointment if you have questions or concerns about autism or make it a point to discuss your concerns during his or her scheduled checkup.

While there is no cure for autism, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children with the disorder.

No link between vaccines and autism

One of the greatest controversies in autism is centered on whether a link exists between autism and certain childhood vaccines, particularly the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Despite extensive research, no reliable study has shown a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Avoiding childhood vaccinations can place your child in danger of catching and spreading serious diseases, including whooping cough (pertussis), measles or mumps.

For more information on childhood vaccination recommendations, click here.

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