What is autism?

Autism is a neurobiological disorder that affects the brain. Autism is characterized by social and language challenges and excessively repetitive routines and behaviors. For example, a person with autism may have an obsession with a certain topic, such as airplanes, and have high-energy temper tantrums. A person with autism may also have problems making eye contact, or may show you he or she is happy by spinning around instead of smiling.

Autism encompasses a group of disorders called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which includes these related disorders:

  • Autistic disorder is also referred to as classic autism and is the most debilitating form of autism.

  • Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s, is sometimes called high-functioning autism. People with Asperger’s typically have social challenges and display repetitive behaviors, but they have fewer challenges with language and communication than people with classic autistic disorder.

  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified is also referred to as PDD-NOS, or atypical autism. PDD-NOS is often thought of as a milder form of autism, where not all the autism criteria are met during diagnosis.

The symptoms and severity of autism vary greatly from child to child and among the different forms of ASD. Symptoms appear in early childhood and continue throughout one’s lifetime.

ASDs occur in both genders, but boys are more likely to have an ASD than girls. ASDs also appear in all ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and geographic areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 110 children in the United States has autism or ASD (about 730,000 people from birth to 21 years of age) (Source: CDC).

Autism and ASDs take a great toll on children and their families. Little is known about what causes autism and ASDs. While research continues on the myriad of possible causes, the scientific community recognizes that ASDs are not caused by bad parenting.

There is no cure for autism or ASDs at this time, although a variety of therapies and other treatments are available to help people with autism and their families live as full and normal lives as possible. Researchers around the world are studying autism to learn more about the causes and treatment of autism and ASDs.

Seek prompt medical careif your child has symptoms of autism, such as delays in normal development or lack of language or social skills. In certain situations, people with autism can exhibit aggressive tendencies. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if someone you are with or know becomes violent, threatening, or dangerously aggressive, or is hurting himself or herself.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of autism

Symptoms of autism begin early in life. Parents of children with autism generally notice symptoms of autism by their child’s first or second birthday.... Read more about autismsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes autism?

The medical community does not definitively know what causes autism and the range of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism and ASDs are known to be complex, so it is likely they have multiple interconnected causes. Scientists and researchers are exploring thousands of environmental and genetic influences on fetuses, infants and children that may make them more likely to develop an ASD. The specific influences under investigation include medications, other medical conditions, viruses, and chromosomal abnormalities. It is, however, generally accepted by medical providers that poor parenting practices do not cause autism.... Read more about autismcauses

TREATMENTS

How is autism treated?

There is no cure for autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), but there are several therapies available that can help an autistic child’s development and behavior. The goals of autism treatment may include managing tantrums, learning social skills, and helping improve focus and attention span. Each person with autism has unique behaviors and symptoms, and requires a personalized treatment plan developed with his or her family by a team of doctors, therapists and educators. In general, treatment is more successful the earlier it is begun after diagnosis.... Read more about autismtreatments

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian MD Last Annual Review Date: May 12, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves