Autism is a brain disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the external world. People with the condition often exhibit repetitive behavior or narrow, obsessive interests. Other characteristics of autism include problems with verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. Scientists aren't certain what causes the disorder, but it's likely that both genetics and environment play a role.
What Is Autism?Autism is a brain disorder that too often results in a lifetime of impaired thinking, feeling, and social functioning -- our most uniquely human attributes. It typically affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the external world. The disorder becomes apparent in children generally by the age of 3.
Autism (sometimes called "classical autism") is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders.
Other autism spectrum disorders include:
- Asperger syndrome
- Rett syndrome
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
- Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).
Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism. Males are four times more likely to have it than females. Girls with autism tend to have more severe symptoms and greater cognitive impairment.
Characteristic Behaviors of AutismAutism is characterized by three distinctive behaviors. Autistic children:
- Have difficulties with social interaction
- Display problems with verbal and nonverbal communication
- Exhibit repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests.
Some people with the condition can function at a relatively high level, with speech and intelligence intact. Others have serious cognitive impairments and language delays, and some never speak.
In addition, individuals with autism may seem closed off and shut down, or locked into repetitive behaviors and rigid patterns of thinking. An infant may avoid eye contact, seem deaf, and abruptly stop developing language. The child may act as if unaware of the coming and going of others, or physically attack and injure others without provocation. Infants with autism often remain fixated on a single item or activity, rock or flap their hands, seem insensitive to burns and bruises, and may even mutilate themselves.