What is Autism?

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Autism, also referred to as Autistic Disorder, is a developmental disability characterized by impairments in social interactions and communication, as well as a pattern of repetitive or obsessive behaviors and interests. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. There is no known cure for Autism, but interventions have been identified that can reduce behavioral symptoms and improve academic, employment, and social outcomes. The cause of Autism is not known; however, evidence suggests that both genetic factors and environmental triggers may play roles.

Autism is diagnosed by a pattern of behaviors. Symptoms of Autism can be identified by the time a child is eighteen months old, and a reliable diagnosis of Autism can be made by the time a child is three years old. Autism is three to four times more common in boys than in girls. The number of children identified with Autism has been growing in the past decade, and current estimates suggest that as many as 1 child in every 250 born today will be diagnosed with Autism.

Autism is the most common of the five developmental disabilities known as Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). The other four PDDs are Asperger's Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

For additional information and resources, consult The Child with Autism by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Autism Information Page of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Health's Facts About Autism, or About Autism by the Autism Society of America. For additional information on PDD, see Pervasive Developmental Disorders, a publication of the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.

Last update or review: January 24, 2013