Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental condition that is characterized by distinct challenges that include impaired social skills, speech and nonverbal communication problems, and repetitive behaviors .
Due to the broad range of behaviors that can develop, there are many subtypes of autism. Conditions such as Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), among others, fall under ASD .
Children who have ASD may interact, communicate, learn, and behave in ways that are different from typically developing children. Furthermore, their problem-solving, thinking, and learning abilities may range from gifted or highly skilled to severely challenged.
Additionally, some children with ASD may require a lot of assistance with their daily activities, while others may be more independent. individuals with “high functioning autism”, as some refer to it, may live completely independently.
The most common signs of ASD include the repetition of certain behaviors, avoidance of eye contact, difficulty with social interactions, and trouble transitioning between activities.
The first signs of ASD generally develop during early childhood (e.g., 2-3 years of age), but neurodevelopmental delays that are linked to the disorder may appear earlier. In some cases, it can be diagnosed in infants as young as 18 months.
The characteristics of autism that each child displays are influenced by factors such as genetics and environmental stressors. Additionally, autism is commonly accompanied by secondary issues including sensory problems, gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disturbances, and poor mental health. Indeed, some children with ASD may experience excessive worrying, feelings of hopelessness, or inattentiveness .
There is no cure for ASD, but throughout the years, research has repeatedly shown that early intervention supports positive outcomes later in life for children who have ASD. This is because young children's brains are still forming and demonstrate higher plasticity than older children or adults.
Plasticity refers to the ability to adapt or change over time. Indeed, research suggests that integrated behavioral and developmental intervention should begin as soon as autism is diagnosed to promote neurodevelopmental progress .
Studies also show that combining nutritional intervention (e.g., micronutrient supplementation) with therapy helps target ASD behaviors for a number of children with this condition .
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