Symptoms of autism usually become apparent before a child is three years of age.

In this article:

What is autism?





Advice & Support

What is autism?
Autism is a behavioural condition which is much more common in boys than girls. There may be no indication at birth that the infant is autistic, but signs and symptoms may quickly become apparent after the child’s first year, particularly where there is a focus upon mother-child attachment and interaction, and the differences in infant behaviour compared to others at that stage in their development.

There has been a significant increase in the number of children with autism in the UK over the past decade. The precise reason for this has not been established.

Symptoms of autism can vary from child to child, and include:

A disinterest in others or in making friends

A detached demeanour which makes the autistic child come across as unapproachable and aloof

Little or no appreciation of or sensitivity to the feelings or concerns of others

Difficulty in expressing themselves

Using an odd choice of words, continuously repeating words or phrases, and a tendency to come out with inappropriate remarks or comments in situations where those present would find this strange and even offensive

Unusual mannerisms and body movements (e.g., waving arms around aggressively or in a playful manner, hand-flapping and sudden turning of the head)

Apoplectic anger in response to the disruption of their particular routine

Self-harm – banging their head against a wall or slapping themselves in the face, again as an angry response to a situation that frustrates them or where their routine has been interrupted by another person

Obsessive behaviour

Rocking back and forth over and over again, and other repetitive behaviour(s), such as: the constant opening and closing a door, or relentless rearranging of cutlery on a table, for example.

Note: An autistic child can display all these behaviours or just some of them, depending upon the severity of their condition.

Despite intense research by clinical psychologists and other healthcare professionals worldwide, the exact cause of autism still remains unknown. There has been some suggestion in the British media that the MMR vaccine may play a part in a child developing the condition, but this is not a definite cause as there is no solid evidence supporting this suggestion.

Other suggested causes include:

Genetics – some children may have a genetic predisposition to being autistic. That is, a family member from a previous generation suffered from autism and so the vulnerability to the next generation developing the illness is ‘handed down’.

Environmental factors – pollution, some viruses, maternal problems where the unborn child’s brain has been affected, for example.

If you think your child may be autistic, arrange an appointment with your GP. He or she will consider your child’s medical history to date, and ask you some questions about the type(s) of behaviour your child is displaying which have given you cause for concern. The usual course of action from there is for your GP to refer you to a specialist who will make a qualified assessment through carrying out a range of tests.

Although there is no actual treatment or a definite cure for autism, there are a range of options where the autistic child can be helped (and their carer supported). These options include:

Education – specialist educational support from trained tutors, either at home or in a school for children with autism

Communication – behavioural therapy, counselling, and/or language therapy, where the person with autism is supported and patiently encouraged to learn to interact with others in a social group

Medication – to help control hyperactive behaviour, for example.

Interventions – residential care or limited support at home, depending upon the child’s particular circumstances

Advice & Support
National Autistic Society
393 City Road
Tel: 0845 070 4004 (Helpline)

Autism Independent UK
199-203 Blandford Avenue
NN16 9AT
Tel: 01536 53274

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