Autism Spectrum Disorder (In Children and Adults)

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideAutism Signs in Children: What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Signs in Children: What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Is autism genetic?

Because many different disorders can result in autism, this question is complex. Certainly, disorders such as the fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis, which are both associated with autism, are inherited. There are many families with more than one child with autism where the autism is not clearly due to another cause. Recent studies have found that the gene for at least one kind of familial autism may be on chromosome 13. In some families, autism seems to be passed from generation to generation. In other families, autism is not found in prior generations, but affects multiple siblings (brothers or sisters). The results of this research make it likely that at least one "autism gene" will eventually be found.

However, the majority of individuals with autism do NOT have a strong family history, which supports the premise that environmental or a combination of environmental and genetic factors contribute to the development of autism. In this context, environmental is meant to indicate any nongenetic factor, including infections, toxins, nutrition, or others.

Do vaccines play a role in autism?

Although some remain convinced that certain vaccines, vaccine preservatives, or medications taken to treat side effects of vaccines may cause autism, conventional wisdom is supported by research that continues to consistently demonstrate that immunizations do not cause autism.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/5/2015

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