Fact sheet for information on Autism, an Autism Spectrum Disorder


Autism is the most common of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) and it is increasingly being referred to as one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). These disorders are characterized by delays in the development of children, such as socialization and communication. Autism itself is generally characterized by:

• Delays in social interaction

• Delays in language as used in social communication

• Delayed development of symbolic or imaginative play.


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually occurs within the first three years. A person’s outward appearance may not indicate a disorder, and diagnosis typically comes from a complete physical and neurological evaluation.

There appear to have been large increases in diagnosed autism, for reasons that are heavily debated by researchers in psychology and related fields within the scientific community. The specific causes of autism are unknown, although genetic factors are becoming more prevalent with further research, among other possible causes. There is no cure for autism, but with early early intervention, intense therapies, practice, and schooling, some children may improve on their skills to the point of children without autism.


Causes of autism

The cause of autism is an area of debate and controversy. There is currently no consensus, and researchers are studying a wide range of possible causes. Since autistic people are all somewhat different from one another, there are likely multiple “causes” that interact with each other in subtle and complex ways, and thus give slightly differing outcomes in each individual. There is also a large genetic component to autism while many other possible environmental causes are being researched.


Characteristics of autism

Most autistic children do not show special interest in faces and seem to have tremendous difficulty learning to engage in everyday human interaction. Some infants with autism may appear very calm – they may cry less often because they do not seek parental attention or ministration. Research has suggested that although autistic children are attached to their parents, their expression of this attachment may be unusual and difficult to interpret.

Many autistic children lack the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. They often experience social alienation during their school-age years and may imaginary friends, worlds, or scenarios. They may have difficulty regulating their behavior, resulting in crying, verbal outbursts, or self-injurious behaviors that seem inappropriate or without cause. Children with autism generally prefer to have consistent routines and environments, and they may react negatively to changes in their surroundings.

A diagnosis of autism usually involves problems coping with normal sensory input, including over sensitivity or under reactivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds; physical clumsiness or carelessness; poor body awareness; a tendency to be easily distracted; impulsive physical or verbal behavior; an activity level that is unusually high or low; not unwinding or calming oneself; difficulty learning new movements; difficulty in making transitions from one situation to another; social and/or emotional problems; delays in speech, language or motor skills; specific learning difficulties/delays in academic achievement.


Speech development and autism

Speech development in people with autism can vary widely. Some remain mute throughout their lives with varying degrees of literacy. Those who do speak sometimes use language in unusual ways, retaining features of earlier stages of language development for long periods or throughout their lives. Some children may exhibit only slight delays in language, or even seem to have precocious language and unusually large vocabularies, but have great difficulty in sustaining typical conversations.

Although people with autism usually appear physically normal and have good muscle control, unusual repetitive motions, known as self-stimulation, may set them apart. These behaviors might be extreme and highly apparent or more subtle. Examples include repeatedly flapping arms, wiggling their toes, or possibly spending hours lining up their toys in a certain way, not using them for the type of pretend play expected of a non-autistic child.

A child with autism will sometimes have persistent, intense preoccupations, such as learning obsessively about computers, TV programs and movie schedules or lighthouses.


Autistic savants

This term is used to describe a person who is autistic and has extreme talent in a certain area of study. There is a common association made between savants and autism, especially due to the 1988 film Rain Man. But most autistic people are not savants, and savantism is not unique to autistic people, though there does seem to be some relation. Rapid mathematical calculations and fast computer programming skills are the most common form.


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Autism is an Autism Spectrum Disorder characterized by developmental delays