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What is Autism?

These pages are addressed to the parents of a child who has autism.

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

Autism spectrum disorders, which include autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder, affect about 1 in 110 American children aged 3-17 years old. It may affect more boys than girls. 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...

It is possible to develop autism with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing autism. There is no way known to modify your child's risk for autism.

Genetic Factors

Genetics is believed to play a role in the risk of autism because the condition is more common in:

  • Families
  • Identical twins

Recent studies have linked deletions in a section of chromosome 16. This chromosome abnormality may account for a small percentage of autism cases.


Caucasian males are more likely to be affected by autism than females. When girls are affected, though, they may have more profound symptoms.

Age of Parents

Older parents (eg, mother's age over 35) may...

Autism may be noticed during infancy. But, it is usually noticed during early childhood (ages 2-6 years). Sometimes there is an event seemingly associated with the onset of symptoms, such as vaccination, infection, or seizure. The severity of symptoms varies. Children with autism may exhibit a combination of behaviors. Autism is a lifelong condition.

Each child is different, but symptoms fall into four broad categories:

  • Poor or limited social relationships
  • Underdeveloped communication skills
  • Repetitive behaviors and unusual interests and activities
  • Signs of altered and confused sensory input

Because children develop and change so rapidly at this early stage, symptoms often take the form of failure to progress or of regression from previous achievements....

Autism is difficult to diagnose. When the diagnosis is made, it can be heartbreaking to parents.

Parents are usually the first to suspect something is wrong. A previously normal child will suddenly act odd. Language development may stop or regress; social reactions may become inappropriate or disappear altogether. Or, bizarre behavior may appear, such as tantrums or obsessive repetition. Sometimes symptoms appear after vaccination, fever, infection, or other event. Any symptoms should be mentioned at routine doctor visits, where they will be explored to determine if they warrant referral to a specialist.

Regressive vs. Early Onset Autism

One way of classifying autism is by its onset pattern. The majority of cases are early onset, where a child shows symptoms during...

There are no guidelines for preventing autism because the cause is unknown. Scientists are actively searching for a better understanding of autism and ways to prevent it.

Autism National Committee


Description of Services Provided:

The Autism National Committee publishes The Communicator, provides referrals, and sponsors an annual conference to promote the latest information on autism.

Autism Research Institute (ARI)


Phone: Toll-Free Support Hotline

English: (866) 366-3361

Spanish: (877) 644-1184 Ext. 5

Description of Services Provided:

  • Biannual conferences for medical practitioners, family members, and individuals on the spectrum. Conferences include information on nutrition, metabolic disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, and more in relation to autism.
  • Toll-free support hotline
  • Website includes FAQ section with...

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