What is Autism?

Autism is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism is characterized by impairments in three distinctive areas:

  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Social interactions
  • Repetitive behaviors

Additionally, some individuals with autism may have issues with sensory processing and/or obsessive interests. These behaviors can range in impact from mild to severe. Autism varies widely and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when more debilitating handicaps mask it. Scientists aren’t certain what causes autism, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.

Classic autism typically appears during the first three years of life. Increasingly researchers are able to diagnose it at younger ages. Mild autism, known as Asperger’s syndrome or PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified), is often diagnosed later, often after a child has entered school. Because it has only been recognized in the past 25 years, many people are being diagnosed in their teen years or as adults. Diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome can be difficult, and it’s not uncommon for individuals to be diagnosed with AS when in fact, they do not have it or they may not be diagnosed appropriately when they do have it.