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Autism is a serious problem. But there are things you can do to help your child. Try to understand the problem. Find out about treatments that work.

What is autism?
Autism (AW-tizm) is a problem in the way a child's brain has developed. It's not a disease, or an infection that can spread from person to person.

What does autism looks like? girl's face
Children with autism have trouble with:

  • Looking at other children
  • Playing with other children
  • Communicating
  • Signing or speaking
  • Showing imagination

Many children with autism like to do the same things over and over again. They can get very good at doing certain things, like math or music.

Does your child have autism?
If you think your child has autism, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does he have trouble watching people as they talk or sign to him?
  • Does he shy away from playing with other children?
  • Does he not enjoy playing games that involve imagination, like "house" or "firefighter" or "store", etc.?
  • Do you have to teach him phrases over and over again so he can talk to people?
  • Does he like to play with or do certain things over and over again?
  • Are there times when your child MUST follow a certain pattern or a routine? Does he get very upset if that routine is changed?

If you answered "yes" to 1 or more of these questions, get your child tested. Once you know what problems he has, you can get help for him.

If you're worried about how your child acts, don't wait. Many people may try to reassure you. They may say that deafness is the reason for these problems. But it isn't. Talk about it with your child's teacher. And watch other deaf children play. You can see if your child plays and behaves like the other children.

Sometimes autism and deafness get mixed up.
Many parents think that their child's strange behaviors are caused by deafness, and that everything would be different if their child could just hear. But autism is a separate problem that happens to hearing children, too.

Some people say that children with autism "act like they are deaf" because they do not look at you or answer when you call them. But hearing aids do not fix this problem for hearing children - or for deaf children.

Deaf children learn about the world through their eyes.
For a long time, people thought that problems caused by autism were really caused by deafness. Now we know that they are not.

Deaf children use their eyes to learn about the world. They love to watch other people. Even before they start speaking or signing, they learn how to make people understand them (like by using gestures). But deaf children with autism don't do this well.

There are different kinds of autism.
Not all children are autistic in the same way:

  • Some like to spin and twirl their toys. Others never do that.
  • Some enjoy being around people. Others prefer playing alone.
  • Some enjoy being tickled. Others don't want to be touched.

Some children are more autistic than others.
Some children have only very mild signs of autism. Others have severe autism. We call this range from very mild to the most severe autism an autism spectrum or continuum (kon-TIN-yoo-um). girl dancing

  • Mild autism - when children have just a few signs of autism that are not very serious. They may have trouble looking at you "eye to eye," and like counting things.
  • Severe autism - when children find it almost impossible to look at people directly or to talk or sign. They seem to be involved in their own world. But these children are watching and learning in their own way. We need to work hard to understand their world, and how they experience everything around them.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) is another phrase that describes when a child has trouble connecting with others. Or when a child does some of the things listed above. Some doctors will write PDD-NOS. This means the same thing as PDD.

Asperger's Syndrome
Some children have some of these problems, but in a very mild way. Some doctors believe that this is a mild form of autism and call it Asperger's Syndrome (ASS-perg-erz SIN-drum). Other doctors feel that this is a completely different problem.

Here's what a child with Asperger's Syndrome can look like:

  • He may not understand what people usually do in certain situations.
  • He may have trouble understanding how other people feel. He may not understand why other people act and say what they do.
  • He may be able to speak or sign as well as other deaf children at his age.
  • He may be even smarter in some areas. Especially math, science or music.
  • He may be very clumsy. He may not be very good at sports.
  • He may even not be very good with writing, or working with his hands.
  • He may have problems paying attention. He may even look like he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD.
  • He may have terrible manners or habits like picking his nose, and seem like he does not care about what other people think.

What causes autism
No one knows what causes autism. But we do know that it is NOT caused by bad parenting or not spending enough time with your child. We know now that it's caused by something that happens in the brain.

There is no 1 reason that children become autistic. Most children have had this problem since they were born, even if we do not always realize it until they are older. Most children with autism have problems from the time that they are very, very little.

  • They may be calm babies, lying for hours without crying or fussing.
  • But they don't look you in the eye. And they may be more interested in the ceiling fan or a light than your face.
  • These babies don't play the same way that healthy babies and toddlers do.

Many things that cause deafness can also cause autism. This may be why there may be more deaf children with autism than hearing children with autism. These are some causes of deafness and autism:

Next: The signs of autism

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