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Early childhood autism (Kanner's syndrome) is a form of autism spectrum disorder that is associated with the earliest occurrence of various developmental abnormalities - its symptoms may appear as early as the first year of a child's life. Check the symptoms of early childhood autism, see the treatment options, and find out about the prognosis of patients with early childhood autism.

Early childhood autism( Kanner's syndrome ) has one feature that distinguishes it from other autism spectrum disorders (for example from atypical autism) . We are talking about the moment when the first disorders appear - early childhood autism leads to the appearance of various abnormalities before the child turns 3 years old.

Early childhood autism is found in children of both sexes, but much more often - even four times - it is found in boys. Data on the prevalence of this problem vary, but in general, according to statistics, 5 to 10 in 10,000 people struggle with Kanner's syndrome.

The term autism is derived from the Greek word autos, translated "alone". Currently, it is associated primarily with a problem of interest to child psychiatry, but originally it was not so. Well, the term autism was first used by E. Bleuler - he used it as the name of one of the symptoms of schizophrenia.

  • Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder)

Autism as a childhood ailment began in 1943, when Leo Kanner described a group of children with specific developmental disorders. They were finally referred to as early infantile autism. From the name of the author of their first description, they are also called Kanner's syndrome.

Early childhood autism: causes

Due to what problems in functioning can lead to early childhood autism, its pathogenesis - as well as the causes of other autism spectrum disorders - have already been wondered by many different scientists.

No clear conclusions have yet been drawn. It is currently postulated that early childhood autism is multi-factorial. Impact on histhe occurrence may have, among others :

  • inherited genes (this conclusion was made after it was noticed that if one of the twins has autism, the other may be up to 100 times more likely to develop the same problem)
  • various complications related to the course of pregnancy and childbirth (both intrauterine infections and perinatal hypoxia may be associated with autism)
  • various anomalies regarding the structure of the central nervous system (such a conclusion was made, among others, on the basis of the observation that children with autism have e.g. an extended ventricular system of the brain)

It is generally believed that early childhood autism is caused by disturbances in the development of the nervous system, occurring in the very early stages of life. What, however, is the direct cause of them, is still unknown, and therefore the Kanner team in the world is, unfortunately, impossible to prevent.

Early childhood autism: symptoms

The course of early childhood autism varies greatly, and the variations in individual patients may also vary.

Some specialists dealing with this issue point out that some symptoms of autism spectrum disorders may be visible even in infancy.

Such would be, for example, the lack of maintaining eye contact with the mother or unusual reactions to the sounds coming to the child from the environment (e.g. completely ignoring very loud sounds while being very interested in extremely quiet sounds at the same time).

The subtle symptoms of autism are easy to overlook, but as the child's life progresses, the various disorders become more and more visible. The symptoms of early childhood autism relate to three spheres: speech, social functioning and the behavior of the child.

Early childhood autism: speech and communication disorders

A large proportion of people with early childhood autism do not speak at all. In others, speech may be somewhat developed, although it may not be used for communicating with others.

It may be difficult for the patient to understand the statements of other elements - incl. by the fact that he understands speech very literally. For example, when he hears that someone is "sitting on the computer" (a phrase that is fundamentally incorrect, although often used by many people), a person with autism may be very surprised - after all, you do not sit on the computer.

The communication disturbances in the course of the problem do not only concern speech. A person with Kanner's syndrome - even if he doesn't speak at all - may not use (for example, tocompensating for your disorders) non-verbal communication (i.e. body language).

Problems with social functioning in the course of Kanner's team

Another important symptom of early childhood autism is disorders of social functioning. It is difficult for the patient to establish relationships with other people - with his peers, and sometimes even with members of his own family.

This is due to the fact that he does not understand other people's emotions, and what's more - he may react to the feelings of others in a completely unpredictable way. It is also characteristic that children with autism do not use eye contact at all when dealing with other people.

Another problem in this area is the lack of the need to involve other people to play together or share your joy - this includes for this reason it is said that autistic children are locked in their own world.

High-functioning autism: causes, symptoms, therapy

Early childhood autism: specific, unusual behavior of children

A patient with early childhood autism usually adheres to routine. Any deviations from it may cause him even extreme fear.

If the child starts the day with a meal, then watches a fairy tale and then goes out for a walk, any change in this rhythm of the day may lead to crying, outbursts of anger or even aggressive behavior.

In the case of Kanner's team, you can also come across the fact that the child will be interested in one, extremely narrow field (e.g. dinosaurs - it will look like them everywhere, collect their figures or watch movies with them, and all other toys may not arouse any interest in him at all).

It also happens that a child with early childhood autism exhibits stereotypical movements, e.g. constantly tapping with his fingers or spinning aimlessly around his own axis.

Early childhood autism: recognition and differentiation

In making a diagnosis of early childhood autism, it is important to find out the current deviations in the child, but also how his entire development has progressed before - this is why parents are asked so many different questions.

Usually the first steps in the case of suspected autism spectrum disorders are referred to a child psychiatrist, in practice, however, the final diagnosis is made by the entire team, which includes not only a doctor, but also a psychologist, educator or speech therapist. Sometimes a child suspected of having autism undergoes various tests, including imaging tests or genetic tests. The purpose of themto conduct it is to exclude other potential causes of the existing disorders - the differential diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders includes, inter alia, Rett's syndrome, very early-onset psychotic disorders and Down's syndrome.

Therapy for early childhood autism: what is it?

Finding early childhood autism as early as possible is very important because it simply allows the child to implement the necessary therapy more quickly.

Therapeutic interactions applied to children with Kanner's syndrome are multidirectional. Methods are used to improve communication (including work with a speech therapist), but also behavioral therapy and social skills training. Other influences can also positively influence the child's condition, e.g. Dog therapy or various artistic activities.
Although there is absolutely no cure for autism, sometimes pharmacological treatment is implemented in children struggling with this problem.

It aims to reduce various psychopathological symptoms, incl. mood swings, aggressive behavior or neurotic disorders.

In the case of the former, patients may be prescribed mood stabilizers (e.g. valproic acid), with a high tendency to aggression, various neuroleptics may be used, and in the case of e.g. obsessions and compulsions, the patient may be prescribed medications from the group of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Early childhood autism: what does prognosis depend on?

It is difficult to unequivocally estimate the prognosis of children with early childhood autism - it is an exceptionally individual matter. However, it was noticed, inter alia, the fact that the later the first symptoms of autism spectrum disorders appear (i.e. the longer a child develops without deviations), the better his prognosis is.
Some people think that autism eliminates the ability of the person suffering from it to function independently. This belief is downright untrue.

Well, a patient diagnosed with early childhood autism may eventually complete their education, get a job or even start a family.

A lot depends on the therapy and its effects - this is why the importance of early diagnosis of autism and rapid initiation of therapeutic interventions in the affected person is so emphasized.
1. Psychiatry, vol. 2, Clinical psychiatry, ed. S. Pużyński, J. Rybakowski, J. Wciórka, ed. II, pub. Elsevier Urban & Partner, Wrocław 2011
2. Psychiatry of children and adolescents, ed. I. Namysłowska, publ. PZWL, Warsaw2012
3. Brasic, J. R., Autism, Apr 2022, Medscape; on-line access:

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