Autism is a developmental disability that usually appears during the first three years of life. It is a
neurological disorder that impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and
communication skills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003, autism is the most common
of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders, affecting an estimated 1 in 250 births. This means that as many as 1.5
million Americans today are believed to have some form of autism.
What is Autism?
Autism is a brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, to reason, and to interact with
others. It is a spectrum disorder that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees of severity, and
it is often found in combination with other disabilities.
What causes Autism?
There is no known single cause for autism, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities
in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in
autistic children versus that of non-autistic children. Some researchers are investigating a number of
theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems. Other researchers are
investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors such as viral infections,
metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals.
Who is at risk for Autism?
Autism tends to occur more frequently than expected among individuals who have certain medical conditions,
including Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, congenital rubella syndrome, and untreated phenylketonuria
Autism is four times more common in boys than girls, but is found equally in all other populations.
Are there treatments for Autism?
While there is no cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that may reduce some of the
challenges associated with the disability. Intervention may help to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education
can teach self-help skills that allow for greater independence. But just as there is no one symptom or behavior
that identifies autistic children, there is no single treatment.