Autism: A spectrum of neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication, and unusual and repetitive behavior. Some, but not all, people with autism are non-verbal.
Autism is normally diagnosed before age six and may be diagnosed in infancy in some cases. The degree of autism varies from mild to severe in different children. Severely afflicted patients can appear profoundly retarded.
The cause (or causes) of autism are not yet fully understood. However, it is believed that at least some cases involve an inherited or acquired genetic defect. Researchers have proposed that the immune-system, metabolic, and environmental factors may play an important part as well. It is not caused by emotional trauma, as was once theorized.
Autism or autistic-like behavior may co-occur with many other neurological conditions.
The optimal treatment of autism involves an educational program that is suited to the child's developmental level.
Autism is also called the Kanner syndrome or infantile autism. See also Asperger syndrome, elective mutism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Rett syndrome.
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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016