Each child diagnosed with an autistic disorder differs from every other, and so general descriptions of autistic behavior and characteristics do not apply equally to every child. Still, the common impairments in social interaction, communication and imagination, and rigid, repetitive behaviors make it possible to recognize children with these disorders, as they differ markedly from healthy children in many ways.
Many parents of autistic children sense that something is not quite right even when their children are infants. The infants may have feeding problems, dislike being changed or bathed, or fuss over any change in routine. They may hold their bodies rigid, making it difficult for parents to cuddle them. Or, they may fail to anticipate being lifted, lying passively while the parent reaches for them, rather than holding their arms up in return. Most parents of autistic children become aware of the strangeness of these and other behaviors only gradually.
Impairments in social interaction are usually among the earliest symptoms to develop. The most common social impairment is a kind of indifference to other people, or aloofness, even towards parents and close care-givers. The baby may fail to respond to his or her name being called and may show very little facial expression unless extremely angry, upset, or happy. Babies with autism may resist being touched, and appear to be lost in their own world, far from human interaction. Between
£ seven and 10 months of age, most infants often resist t« °
^ being separated from a parent or well-known caregiver, ^ but these infants may show no disturbance when picked up by a stranger.
Other children with autism may be very passive, although less resistant to efforts by others to interact. However, they do not initiate social interaction themselves. Still others may attempt to engage with adults and peers, but in ways that strike others as inappropriate, or odd.
In adolescence and adulthood, some of the higher-functioning individuals with autistic disorders may appear overly formal and polite. They may react with little spontaneity, as if social interaction doesn't come naturally or easily to them, and so they are trying to follow a pre-determined set of rules.
Some individuals with autism have normal intelligence, and many have special talents in areas such as music or memory. However, individuals with autism may have other mental or emotional problems that co-exist with their autism. Some of these other disorders may include impulse control disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mood and anxiety disorders, and mental retardation.
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Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.