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Autism Center

What is autism?

Autism
Autism can be a confusing disorder that is extremely frustrating to understand, especially when you are trying to communicate with someone diagnosed with autism.  But what exactly is autism?  Who does autism affect and what causes it?

What is autism?
Autism is a serious developmental disorder with no known cure, that lasts a lifetime.   Because the condition is developmental in nature, autism affects a child's ability and skills during the developmental period:  from the time s/he is a baby to adulthood.  Development difficulties characteristic of autism include:

  • communication (verbal or non-verbal)
  • repetitive behavior and strong interests
  • social interaction

A person with autism may have difficulty communicating or expressing emotions; may exhibit unusual learning methods (e.g. arranging items in an orderly way before paying attention) or repetitive behavior during stressful situations, especially before a particular action (e.g. repeating words, phrases, or sentence).  Autism is one of several different disorders referred to as a 'spectrum disorder,' meaning that it just one of several disorders that share similar symptoms.  This spectrum of disorders includes:

  • Asperger syndrome
  • Autistic disorder (classic autism)
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (atypical autism)
  • Rett syndrome

Related health conditions
People diagnosed with autism are usually diagnosed with other, related health issues.  Because of the relatively high correlation of autism, and the occurrence of other condition, additional treatment options may be needed for each.  Or, preventative steps may be necessary.  Health issues related to autism include:

Fragile X syndrome - This inherited form of mental retardation affects the X chromosomes of approximately 5% of autistic suffers.  

Mental retardation - This disorder may impair a child's mental abilities within a subject area for a child with autism. 

Sensory problems - Children with autism may be highly sensitive to any sensory perception, even to the point where some sensations may be extremely painful to the child.  Other children with autism develop insensitivity to sense and may not feel other sensory perceptions, even when it would normally be very painful.  For example, an autistic child may break a leg, and not act in pain.  

Seizures - Approximately 25% of children with autism experience seizures, which may begin during childhood, or during adolescence.  

Tuberous sclerosis - Approximately 1-4% of autistics are diagnosed with this genetic disorder, which causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs of the body.

Do doctors know what causes autism?  And what group of children or adults is more likely to be diagnosed with autism.  Read on for more information on autism causes and risk factors in the next section on autism causes.

NEXT: Causes and Risk Factors >>