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What is autism? Things to know about the disorder

Autism is a disorder that has been around since the 1940s, but still has an air of mystery around it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 59 children in the United States has autism.

»RELATED: Baby teeth could be predictor of autism, study suggests

But with a list of different symptoms and causes, it can be hard to know what you should look for and how to tell if your child might be showing early signs. To help you, here's an overview of everything you need to understand about this disorder.

What is autism?

Autism is also called autism spectrum disorder. It's defined as a range of strengths and challenges related to communication skills, social skills and behavior patterns. In kids, the symptoms will usually show up by 12 to 18 months of age.

What are the symptoms of autism?

Autism symptoms can be different for everyone, so there are lots of ways to diagnose it. If you think your child might be on the autism spectrum, here are some signs you can look for:

1. Repetitive behavior or use of language

2. Delay in spoken language

3. Lack of interest in relationships with peers

4. Avoidance of spontaneous or make-believe play

5. Little or no eye contact

6. Fixation on specific topics or objects

7. Difficulty understanding other people's feelings

If you believe your child might have autism, it might be a good idea to talk to their doctor. They can usually refer you to a specialist who should be able to give you a better idea of what might be going on. In some cases, a child who shows symptoms of autism could actually have a different disorder with similar symptoms.

What causes autism?

Autism spectrum disorder can be caused by factors like genetics, environmental influences or even a combination of both. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, certain genetic mutations (or combinations of mutations) can:

1. Cause symptoms of autism,

2. Control how severe those symptoms are, or

3. Increase the chances that someone might develop autism once faced with certain factors from their environment.

Unless a person carries the risk of developing autism within their genes, experts at said that environmental factors probably won't put that child at risk of developing autism.

» RELATED: Can taking folic acid lower the risk of autism? New studies suggest it may help

Is there a cure for autism?

There is no known cure for autism, but there are a small number of people who have been diagnosed and then later moved off the spectrum. Sometimes children will show autism symptoms when they're young and they will grow out of it later. Other times, long-term treatment has helped people make progress. Each case can be completely different.

Treatment options for living with autism can be different based on a person's age and symptoms. In most cases, steady treatment, like therapy, can be helpful.

There are tons of resources out there to learn more about autism spectrum disorder. Autism Speaks has information about events and initiatives for anyone affected by the disorder (including the Global Autism Public Health Initiative). The CDC also offers plenty of statistics and resources through their website.

Locally, you can visit the Marcus Autism Center for pediatric autism treatment and additional resources.

Click here to read about the steps the Atlanta Braves are taking to make baseball games more accessible for fans with autism. 

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