Autism Spectrum Disorder (In Children and Adults)

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Autism facts

  • Autism and related disorders are now referred to as autism spectrum disorders.
  • Characteristics of autism include impaired development in social interaction, communication, and behavior.
  • The degree of autism varies from mild to severe.
  • Severely afflicted persons with autism can appear to have a profound intellectual disabilty. Research tends to continue to refute the idea that immunizations cause autism.
  • The cause of autism is unknown.
  • The optimal treatment of autism involves an educational or vocational program that is suited to the developmental level of the child or adult, respectively.
  • It is important for the unique medical and mental-health needs of people with autism to be addressed in order to optimize both their life expectancy and quality of life.
  • Persons with autism and those who care for them often engage in advocacy activities like the walk for autism during April, Autism Awareness Month.

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by impaired development in communication, social interaction, and behavior. Statistics about autism include that it afflicts one out of every 88 children, a 78% increase in the past 10 years. It affects the lives of many children and their families. It tends to affect about five boys to every one girl. Certain areas have been found to have clusters of autism, in that those regions have significantly more people with autism than average. Some such clusters were found in California from 1993 to 2001.

In the past, autism has been confused with childhood schizophrenia or childhood psychosis, and may have been misunderstood as schizotypal personality disorder in some adults. As additional research information about autism becomes available, the scope and definition of the condition continues to become more refined. Some of the past confusion about the disorder has been resolved.


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Learn the early red flags, warning signs, and symptoms of autism.

Autism Symptoms and Screening

Medical Author: David Perlstein, MD FAAP
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

It is commonplace to have a family member or close friend with a child diagnosed with one of the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs, including autistic disorder, Asperger disorder, pervasive developmental disorder). These are a set of neurodevelopmental disabilities affecting young children and adults, which are currently not considered "curable". The goals of management include minimizing the symptoms and maximizing both independent function and quality of life. These are not uncommon disorders. Their prevalence has been estimated as approximately 6.5 per 1000 children, or 1 in every 150 children. Many believe that there is an "Autism Epidemic." However, as with many diseases and disorders, there are many reasons for this high prevalence.

Fortunately, significant media coverage and increased research have resulted in a better educated public and more vigilant healthcare practitioners. It is clear that early diagnosis and intervention are associated with better outcomes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published an updated guide for the "Management of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders." In this publication, both background information and management choices are reviewed. In addition the AAP's approved "Surveillance and Screening Algorithm: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)" is introduced. Currently this translates into the following: All children should be screened for autism at 18 months and again at 2 years of age, and at any time a parent raises a concern about autism spectrum disorders (even if they have no signs of developmental delay). Although many health care practitioners were already screening, the process has been formalized and I expect that even more children will be referred, resulting in earlier diagnosis and intervention.