What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism (say: AW-tiz-um) spectrum disorder is a difference in the way a kid's brain develops. Kids with autism may have trouble understanding the world around them.

What's It Like to Have Autism?

A kid with autism might have trouble:

  • talking and learning the meaning of words
  • making friends or fitting in
  • dealing with changes (like trying new foods, having a substitute teacher, or having toys moved from their normal places)
  • dealing with loud noises, bright lights, or busy hallways

Kids also might move in an unusual way (like flapping their hands) or do the same thing over and over (like saying the same word).

A kid with autism may have a little trouble with these things, or a lot. Some kids need only a little bit of help, and others might need a lot of help with learning and doing everyday stuff.

What Causes Autism?

Autism is something people are born with. No one knows exactly what causes it. It probably has something to do with a kid's genes and other things that change the way the brain develops.

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

Doctors check babies and little kids for signs of autism at every checkup. A parent may think that something is wrong and tell the doctor. Maybe the child is old enough to speak but doesn't. Or a kid doesn't seem interested in people or plays in unusual ways.

When a doctor thinks a kid might have autism, he or she will work with a team of experts to see if it is autism or something else.

How Is Autism Treated?

There is no cure for autism, but treatment can make a big difference. The younger kids are when they start treatment, the better.

Doctors, therapists, and special education teachers can help kids learn to talk, play, and learn. Therapists also help kids learn about making friends, taking turns, and getting along.

What if My Friend Has Autism?

It can be hard for kids with autism to make friends. Because they seem different, kids with autism may be teased, bullied, or left out.

If you see someone teasing or bullying a friend with autism, stand up for your friend and tell an adult.

Even though kids with autism see the world in a different way, try to find the things you have in common — like school or special hobbies. Ask your friend to join in when you are playing. He or she may need a little extra help, but remember to be patient and kind.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2019 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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