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What is autism?

Autism is a neurobiological condition that stays with a person throughout their life. It affects communication and social interaction, often involving restricted interests and a different sensory processing experience.

What is its prevalence?

Between 1% and 2% of the global population. It's estimated that 78 million people worldwide are on the autism spectrum.

What is the cause?

The origin is neurological, but it's not thought to be due to a specific area of the brain; rather, it's related to altered connectivity between different areas.

What are the associated factors?

Genetic: It’s estimated that up to 25% of cases have an identifiable genetic cause. The concordance among siblings ranges from 5% to 20%. Environmental: Possible factors include maternal and paternal age, infections during pregnancy, premature birth, medication, and environmental toxins.

Why do we talk about a spectrum?

A spectrum refers to a range of characteristics that encompass all people with autism, each with their own unique traits. There are as many forms of autism as there are people with autism. Nowadays, when we talk about autism, we are referring to neurobiological diversity. Although everyone under this diagnosis shares challenges with social communication and restricted interests, they don't all manifest in the same way. What varies is the level of intensity and the amount of support needed, which can be classified as 'support', 'substantial support', or 'very substantial support'.

Is autism a disease?

Autism is not a disease, so it doesn't have a specific cause or treatment. It's considered a condition that accompanies a person throughout their life. Early detection allows for appropriate intervention and a better prognosis.

What should I do if I suspect my child has autism?

If you have a child between 16 and 30 months and notice behaviors that raise concerns, consult your doctor. Research has shown that early detection and intervention lead to a better prognosis, so the earlier, the better.

What are the warning signs of autism?

Autism indicators often appear between 2 and 3 years of age. Some developmental challenges can appear even earlier, and autism can often be diagnosed as early as 18 months. That's why if you have a child between 16 and 30 months and you observe some of these signs, it's important to consult with your doctor.

Here are some warning signs:

  • Lack of social smile or expressions of joy starting at 6 months.
  • Avoiding eye contact and preferring to be alone.
  • Not responding to their name at 12 months.
  • Not babbling at 12 months.
  • Not speaking words at 16 months.
  • Not forming two-word phrases with meaning (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months.
  • Any loss of speech, babbling, or social skills at any age.
  • Not pointing to show or share interest by 14 months.
  • No symbolic or imaginative play (for example, pretending to 'feed' a doll) by 18 months.
  • Unexpected reactions to sensory stimuli.

Those who interact with a child in early childhood should look for key developmental aspects such as eye contact, social interaction, play, communication beyond language, and behavior. Children can reach developmental milestones at different stages of their life. However, the absence of one of these milestones or the loss of these skills requires an immediate consultation with a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, or specialized psychiatrist. Detecting these signs does not mean a diagnosis, but it could indicate that the child may need early intervention.