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Autism Overview

Autism Overview

Autism is one of a group of neurodevelopmental disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). These are characterized by problems with communication and social interaction. Patients often demonstrate restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped behavior patterns or interests.

Signs and Symptoms

According to the Autism Society, autism symptoms typically become clearly evident during early childhood, between 24 months and 6 years of age. Symptoms include a marked delay in language and cognitive development. There may be signs of obsessive and/or antisocial behavior.

Asperger syndrome, another PDD, may be referred to as “high functioning autism.” Asperger syndrome usually lacks the primary communication and cognitive problems that characterize classic autism.

Autism symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people may be considered autistic but manage to function in society without many setbacks. For others, the condition can have a substantial impact on their lives.

Causes of Autism

The exact cause of autism and other autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is unknown. The most current science demonstrates that there is no single cause of autism. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.

Prevalence of Autism

Autism spectrum disorders are found in individuals around the world, regardless of race, cultural, or economic background. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism does occur more often in boys than in girls, with a five-to-one male-to-female ratio.

The CDC estimates that one in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. There are indications that instances of ASDs are on the rise. Some fault environmental factors. However, experts debate whether there is an actual increase in cases or just more frequent diagnoses.

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Classic autism usually entails substantial problems in all of the areas affected by ASDs. Someone with Asperger syndrome has issues with behavioral and social interaction. The symptoms experienced by people with Asperger syndrome are usually less severe than those experienced by patients with classic autism.

There is still some debate as to whether Asperger syndrome is a variation of classic autism. Some argue that it should be classified as a separate disorder.

Pervasive Development Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a classification for someone who exhibits signs of autism but does not fit into the categories of classic autism or Asperger. 

Treatments and Outlook

There is no cure for ASDs. The most effective treatments involve early and intensive behavioral interventions. It is generally agreed that the earlier a child is enrolled in these programs, the better their outlook will be.

Since conventional medicine has not found a cure for ASDs, patients and their advocates have sought alternatives, including:

  • high dose vitamins
  • chelation therapy
  • hyperbaric oxygen

There is currently no evidence that these treatments are effective. Parents should weigh the research and financial costs before investing in any of these therapies for their children.


Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on: Sep 10, 2014
Medically reviewed on: Sep 10, 2014: Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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