Do you have a friend or family member who is autistic? Many years ago, people with autism may have been given a wide range of labels and diagnoses. Today, though, scientists and medical professionals know much more about autism, its causes, and its treatments.

You may hear several conditions referred to as autism; that term actually encompasses a wide variety of developmental disorders. The term most professionals use today is autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder more accurately describes the entire group of disorders that some children are born with and others develop early in their lives.

Autism spectrum disorder affects the brain. This leads to a wide variety of developmental problems. For example, many people affected by ASD have trouble communicating and interacting with others. Not only do many people with ASD have trouble talking, but many people also have trouble understanding language.

These difficulties spill over into many other areas of their lives. As kids, those with ASD often have difficulty playing games and understanding basic rules. As you can imagine, these issues can cause many problems with learning in a typical school setting.

Of course, not everyone with ASD experiences the same problems or symptoms. That's why it's called a spectrum. Some have only mild symptoms and problems, while others experience severe difficulties.

No two people with ASD are alike. Some people with ASD have special skills that make them exceptionally good at certain things, like computers, art, or music. On the other hand, others might experience problems with speech, coordination, or movement. Experts estimate that about 40% of people with ASD have average to above-average intelligence, while the rest have learning disabilities that can be mild or severe.

Researchers who study ASD have made great strides in recent years. Experts now believe that ASD may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because the brain is so complex, however, it's hard to study and researchers are still a ways away from fully understanding the possible causes of autism.

Not knowing the exact causes of ASD has not stopped doctors from developing a wide range of treatments. While there is no cure for autism, specific treatments can be used to address the most important issues facing those with ASD.

For example, therapy can help kids with ASD to develop their language skills. Therapists can also help kids with ASD work on their social and behavioral skills, so they can live normal lives like their friends.

Doctors recommend that kids with ASD start treatment programs as early as possible. A typical treatment regimen could include many different types of programs, such as behavioral, educational, speech, occupational, and social skills therapy. Specific medications might also be prescribed to alleviate particular symptoms, such as hyperactivity or sleep issues.

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