What Is Autism

Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are terms for a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders (i.e. disorders occurring during brain development). Autism is one disorder on the autism “spectrum”, which is viewed as a continuum of disorders, from low to high functionality in areas such as cognitive development and social-interaction difficulties. Asperger’s syndrome is one of the spectrum disorders with high cognitive development and higher social-interaction capabilities. Autism can have a range of functionality, with a range of behaviors from mild to severe, but typically involves less cognitive functionality and greater social-interaction issues, and emotional withdrawal. Speech is also often affected. Rett Syndrome, while rare, causes serious developmental regression at age 3 or 4. All of these disorders are part of the spectrum.

While every child diagnosed with autism is unique in their particular set of issues, the more prevalent symptoms include:

  • Social-interaction difficulties
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication challenges
  • The use of restricted and repetitive behaviors
  • Difficulty in regulating emotions

In addition, many children have intellectual disability, sensory sensitivities, difficulties in motor coordination and other health issues such as poor sleep and gastrointestinal distress.

With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 (the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used as the diagnostic manual for autism,) all autism disorders were merged under the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), rather than distinct subtypes (autism, Asperger’s syndrome, PD-NOS [pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified], Rett Syndrome, etc.).

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 American children are on the spectrum, and the prevalence is increasing, from 6-15% in the period 2002 to 2010. It is not fully understood how much of this increase is due to improved awareness and diagnosis, versus net new incidences.

Autism affects all socioeconomic levels, all ethnic groups, and all ages; it typically presents itself within a child’s first 3 years of life. Boys are impacted 4 to 5 times more frequently than girls—in fact, it is estimated that 1 in 42 boys are on the spectrum. Rett Syndrome is the one exception, as it affects girls almost exclusively.

ASD affects over 3 million people in the U.S., and tens of millions worldwide. There is no prevention, medical detection test or cure. Detection is done through observation and screening, and it is a lifelong developmental condition.

What Causes Autism

Risk Factors For Autism

Diagnosing Autism

Symptoms of Autism


Living With Autism



Medication And Treatment

Complementary and Alternative Treatment

When To Contact A Doctor

Questions For Your Doctor

Questions For A Doctor