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Autism

Autism Overview

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that has the following three defining core features:

  1. Problems with social interactions
  2. Impaired verbal and nonverbal communication
  3. A pattern of repetitive behavior with narrow, restricted interests
A number of other associated symptoms frequently coexist with autism. Most people with autism have problems using language, forming relationships, and appropriately interpreting and responding to the external world around them.

Autism is a behaviorally defined developmental disorder that begins in early childhood. Although the diagnosis of autism may not be made until a child reaches preschool or school age, the signs and symptoms of autism may be apparent by the time the child is aged 12-18 months, and the behavioral characteristics of autism are almost always evident by the time the child is aged 3 years. Language delay in the preschool years (younger than 5 years) is typically the presenting problem for more severely affected children with autism. Higher functioning children with autism are generally identified with behavioral problems when they are aged approximately 4-5 years or with social problems later in childhood. Autism disorder persists throughout the person's lifetime, although many people are able to learn to control and modify their behavior to some extent.

As of May 2013, autism, along with what were formally described as Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders were classified by the American Psychiatric Association as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

  • All of these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of problems with communication, social interaction, and atypical, repetitive behaviors.
  • There is a wide range of symptoms, severity, and other manifestations of these disorders. The expression of autism spectrum disorders varies widely among affected individuals. A child with significant impairment in all three of the core functioning areas (socialization, communication, and atypical, repetitive behaviors) may have a lower level-functioning autism spectrum disorder, while a child with similar problems but without delays in language development may have a higher level-functioning autism spectrum disorder.
  • Some people are affected with fairly mild symptoms and signs of autism. Many of these individuals learn to live independent lives. Others are more severely affected and require lifelong care and supervision.
As the following statistics indicate, autism is a common developmental disorder.
  • The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders appears to be increasing. The most recent studies show that of children born in 1998, 9 out of every 1000 have an autism spectrum disorder, corresponding to an average of 1 out of every 110 children. Although there is a concern that the actual number of children with autism spectrum disorders is increasing, several factors, such as improvements in diagnostic methods and the view of autism spectrum disorders as being on a continuum, also may account for the increase.
  • As many as 1.5 million people in the U.S. may have some form of autism.
  • Autism affects all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic levels.
  • Boys are 3-4 times more likely than girls to have autism.
There is no cure for autism; however, there is good news.
  • A generation ago, most children with autism were institutionalized. This is no longer the case and most children with this disorder live with their families.
  • Our improving understanding of autism has shown that, regardless of the severity of the condition, appropriate treatment and education can eventually help many children with autism to be integrated into their community.
  • Early diagnosis is essential for implementing appropriate treatment and education at an early age, when they can do the most good.
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Autism »

Autism is a condition that manifests in early childhoodand is characterized by qualitative abnormalities in social interactions, marked aberrant communication skills, and restricted repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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