Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with ASD often have problems with communication and social interaction, as well as restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. They may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. The characteristics of autism usually appear in early childhood. It is important to note that autism is not a disease, but early intervention can equip children to handle some of the specific challenges they may face in the world at large.
ASD is a general term that includes a variety of neurodevelopmental features. It can have a significant impact on a person's life, and in some cases, features of the condition may be present since childhood. The autism spectrum encompasses several disorders with a wide range of characteristics. Every autistic person is unique and no definition can describe an individual or predict what their life will be like. We know that there is not just one autism but many subtypes, most of them influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In order to have a diagnosis of autism, the individual must demonstrate a deterioration in each of the three main characteristics described above.
These include difficulties in relating to people, including establishing and maintaining reciprocal relationships; lack of appropriate eye contact; and the inability to initiate or respond to joint care. There is no single test for autism, but physicians and psychologists will use behavioral assessments, questionnaires, observations, and criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM) to determine whether ASD is present. Some children with autism may also have digestive problems such as constipation, abdominal pain, or nausea and vomiting. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a different set of strengths and challenges. In some cases, the functional impairment related to autism may be mild and not apparent until the child starts school, after which their deficits may be pronounced when they are among their peers. Many national and local advocacy organizations provide information, resources, and support to people with autism spectrum disorder and their families. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects about 1 in 44 children in the United States today.
Having certain specific genetic conditions, such as fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis, has been identified as conferring a particularly higher risk of being diagnosed with autism.