What is Autism?

Autism is a complex disorder in which there is considerable variability in symptom expression across ages and developmental levels. It is characterized by varying degrees of impairment in language, cognition, communication, social interaction, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Because of this variability in symptom expression, autism is now thought of as a “spectrum” disorder (i.e., a group of conditions that share similar features). The term “Autism Spectrum Disorders” includes mild, moderate and severe autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder- not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and atypical autism. Autism can often be reliably detected by the age of three and in some cases as early as 18 months. Without early intervention, most individuals with autism will require continued support throughout their lives.

What Causes Autism?

The exact cause of autism is not known, however research suggests that it is due to an interaction between biological and environmental factors. Multiple genetic factors are likely to be involved and their combination may predispose an individual to the disorder, which may manifest under certain environmental conditions. Some studies also suggest that autism may result from disruptions in early brain development that occur in-utero. These disruptions, along with genetic factors, may result in an atypical neurological system that fails to respond to the environment in the same way as that of a typically developing child.