As a baby, Benjamin Ransom was ever-smiling and giggling. The photographer at Sears didn't even have to joke with him to get him to grin for a family photo, recalls his father, Jeff Ransom, of Fort Oglethorpe.
But soon after he reached 15 months, Benjamin seemed to change into a different child. He ceased smiling and avoided eye contact. His speech reverted from clear words into baby babble, and finally he stopped talking altogether, Mr. Ransom said.
"He just had a blank stare on his face," he said.
After a year of failed speech therapy, Benjamin -- who is now 10 -- was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, an increasingly common diagnosis characterized by a difficulty in verbal and nonverbal communication and social interactions. Severity can range from very mild to debilitating.