Conditions InDepth: Autism

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Autism is a complex neurological disorder. It may or may not be noticed during infancy. It is usually identified during early childhood between the ages of 2-6 years. People with autism have difficulty communicating and forming relationships.

Autism spectrum disorders include autism, Asperger syndrome , and pervasive developmental disorder. Autism is a lifelong condition that varies in severity depending on the person. Some people with autism need to be cared for their entire life and have other conditions, such as seizures and intellectual disabilities . Others are able to live on their own and work.

The exact cause of autism is not known. Researchers have identified the following factors that may increase a person's risk of developing autism:

  • Genetic factors
  • Environmental factors
  • Problems during pregnancy or delivery that could interfere with brain development
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
What are the risk factors for autism?What are the symptoms of autism?How is autism diagnosed?What are the treatments for autism?Are there screening tests for autism?How can I reduce my child's risk of autism?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with autism?Where can I get more information about autism?

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2014 -
  • Update Date: 05/06/2014 -
  • Autism 101: a free online course. The Autism Society website. Available at: http://support.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about%5Fcourse. Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Autism spectrum disorder. American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/developmental-disabilities/Pages/Autism-Spectrum-Disorders.aspx. Updated January 31, 2013. Accessed May 13, 2013.

  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html. Updated August 7, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Autism spectrum disorders (pervasive developmental disorders). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-pervasive-developmental-disorders/index.shtml. Updated May 14, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Causes. The Autism Society website. Available at: http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/causes. Accessed May 14, 2013.

  • Rapin I. An 8-year-old boy with autism. JAMA. 2001;285:1749-1757.

  • 12/31/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Rice C. Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders—Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2006. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2009;58(SS10):1.