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Today, we'll discuss a childhood condition more parents are dealing with.

The US government just made a startling announcement: One in every 150 American children is born with autism. Autism is one of neurological disorders called the Autism spectrum disorders or ASD. The cause is unknown, but these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

Very often parents notice their babies seem different: they don't respond to people or just the opposite: they focus completely and for long periods of time on one particular item. Other children appear to be developing normally until they begin to babble as toddlers and suddenly become withdrawn, silent or sometimes self abusive.

ASD can often be diagnosed by age 3 and sometimes as early as 18 months. Therapeutic and interventional programs have a dramatic impact on reducing the symptoms and increasing the child's opportunities to learn and develop.

There's no easy way to diagnose autism so parental observations of a child's development are essential. Photos and videotapes can help you spot certain behavior and the achievement of developmental milestones. Well child check ups are also an important opportunity to screen for ASD.

If your child's behavior has you concerned, an interdisciplinary team will make an evaluation. The team may include a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist and speech-language pathologist. But the first diagnosis will most likely come from you - the Parent. To do that - educate yourself, keep tabs on your child's development, and talk to your pediatrician.

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There are several organizations dedicated to promoting research into the causes and finding a cure for autism. The Autism Research Institute (ARI) is a hub of a worldwide network of parents and professionals concerned with autism. ARI was founded in 1967 to conduct and foster scientific research designed to improve the methods of diagnosing, treating, and preventing autism. ARI also disseminates research findings to parents and others worldwide seeking help. The ARI data bank, the world's largest, contains over 40,000 detailed case histories of autistic children from over 60 countries. The site also provides advice for parents.
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The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) offers an excellent fact sheet about autism. This fact sheet provides a brief overview of autism, what is known about it's causes, treatments and research that is going on now to find the causes and possible cures. The page also has an extensive list of government and other agencies that are reliable sources of information and assistance.
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The National Institutes of Mental Health offers a detailed booklet that describes the symptoms, causes and treatments with information about getting help and coping with this challenging disorder.
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