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Autism (also known as autism spectrum disorder) is the name given to a group of major developmental disorders in which individuals who are affected exhibit severe problems with communication, behavior, and social relationships. Autism is most often diagnosed around the age of three, when caregivers begin to notice abnormalities in a child’s behavior and development.
Frequently, individual’s with autism seem self-absorbed and show little to no interest in other people. Avoiding physical contact is also common in those affected, and children with autism are often delayed in speech development. With early detection, intervention and treatment, children with autism are more likely to function at higher levels.
Though there is no single, definitive cause of autism, many factors appear to increase the risk of developing the disorder. Evidence has shown that exposure to certain viruses during pregnancy may be an influence, and there is growing concern that some viruses associated with childhood vaccinations may be responsible for autism, as well.
Areas with a high level of contamination and pollutants seem to have a higher incidence of autism. Studies show that there is also a genetic component to the disease. Symptoms produced by the disorder arise from the failure of different parts of the brain to interact normally. The hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, emotions, learning and aggression, appears underdeveloped and contains fewer receptors for neurotransmitters.
Dietary changes may be beneficial in treating autism. There is evidence that autistic children respond positively to the removal of wheat and dairy products from their diet. Casein and gluten – proteins found in milk and wheat – are believed to be broken down in the intestines of autistic children into toxic peptides that imitate the effects of hallucinogenic drugs and opiates.