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Last updated March 22, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

This video gives you information about autism along with some of the work we do.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Childhood Autism
  • Early Infantile Autism
  • Kanner's Syndrome

What is Autism? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and repetitive behavior.
  • Usually, signs of this developmental disorder are observed by the age of 3 years and they continue to exist, throughout an individual’s life. Impaired social interaction, difficulties communicating, and learning disabilities, make life very difficult for individuals with Autism.
  • Rarely, children with Autism also suffer from other conditions, such as Tourette syndrome, fragile X syndrome, epileptic seizures, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
  • Currently, the cause of Autism is unknown and there is also no cure for the disorder. It is believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in determining, who might or might not be affected by the condition.
  • To ease the symptoms and help individuals with Autism live a normal life, early intervention is important. By commencing and providing treatment early in life, individuals can adapt to activities of daily living.

Who gets Autism? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • It is estimated that 1 in every 88 children are diagnosed with Autism.
  • Among children, this disorder is 3-5 times more likely to occur in males, than in females. Symptoms of Autism are most often observed at age 2-3 years, which then persists throughout one’s life.

What are the Risk Factors for Autism? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors of Autism include:

  • Children, who have a sibling or parent with Autism, are at a higher risk
  • The disorder is also more likely to occur in individuals who have certain genetic conditions, including Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis
  • Another risk factor is the age of the individual’s parents. If the mother and father of the individual are older than 40 years, the risk of developing Autism increases

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Autism? (Etiology)

  • The exact cause of Autism is unknown. Researchers believe that many genetic and environmental factors could be responsible
  • A number of genes have been identified that are associated with Autism. Studies conducted on individuals with this developmental disorder have indicated that there are irregularities in many regions of the brain
  • These studies have shown abnormal levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which may disrupt normal brain development, leading to symptoms of Autism

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Autism?

Signs and symptoms of Autism begin in the first few years of life and persist throughout an individual’s lifetime; although, they may improve with time.

Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Impaired social skills:
    • Failure to respond to one’s own name
    • Poor eye contact
    • Prefers to play alone
    • Difficulty in understanding other’s feelings
    • Social withdrawal
  • Impaired communication/language skills:
    • Delay in expressive speech development
    • Abnormal rhythm or tone in speech
    • Cannot maintain conversation
    • Repeating words or phrases
    • Unrelated responses to questions
    • Communicates with gestures, instead of using words
  • Behavioral abnormalities:
    • Repetitive movements observed
    • Develops specific routines
    • Develops obsessive interests
    • Unusual reaction to sound, smell, and taste
    • Self-abusive behavior

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Autism is difficult to diagnose, because the severity of the condition varies from one individual to another. There are no medical tests that can determine if a child has Autism.

  • Instead, specialists observe the child’s social skills, language skills, and behavioral pattern
  • Neurological assessments are conducted on the child and an in-depth cognitive and language testing performed
  • To be diagnosed with Autism, a child must fulfill criteria laid out by the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), including impaired social skills, communication skills, or abnormal behavior

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Autism?

The complications from Autism could include:

  • Problems with communication during social occasions often cause distress in those with Autism, leading to social and emotional complications
  • Many individuals with Autism also suffer other genetic disorders, like fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis. These disorders affect the brain and often lead to seizures

How is Autism Treated?

Currently, there is no treatment to cure Autism. To ease the signs and symptoms of the disorder, early intervention is important. Since each case is different, treatment plans are developed based on the child’s needs.

  • Often occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language therapy, are provided. Through these the children learn how to communicate effectively, relate better to others, and control their repetitive behavior
  • Medications are also commonly prescribed to children with Autism to control behavioral and emotional problems. Anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behavior, can be controlled with medicines. To treat severe behavioral problems, antipsychotic medications are prescribed
  • The symptoms in some children have also been controlled, by converting to a gluten-free or casein-free diet (GFCF diet)

How can Autism be Prevented?

  • There is no way to prevent Autism. Once, the onset of symptoms occur, they will exist throughout an individual’s life
  • The symptoms may be lessened and children can learn how to live a more normal life, using a variety of treatments

What is the Prognosis of Autism? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • There is no cure for Autism and individuals are affected with the disorder, throughout their life
  • However, Autism is not usually life-threatening and treatment using a combination of therapy and medications help control the symptoms to an extent, so that such autistic individuals can lead a near normal life

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Autism:

The following article link will help you understand Down syndrome genetic condition.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 11, 2014
Last updated: March 22, 2018