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Autism is a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDD refers to a group of disorders that involve delays or problems in communication and social skills. Autism is the most common type of PDD. Autistic symptoms can be mild to severe, and the level of developmental delay is unique to each child.
The main signs and symptoms of autism involve:
- Communication problems (spoken and unspoken)
- Difficulty with aspects of social interaction
- Repeating behaviors or routines
Children and adults with autism might have difficulty looking you in the eye or have problems talking to you. They might need to perform a ritual so they can pay attention, such as repeating a sentence, or arranging objects in a specific way. They might flap their hands to show happiness, or hurt themselves to show sadness or anger. These behaviors can interfere with social interaction and everyday living.
The cause of autism is not known, but it's likely that genes and the environment play a role. Autism has no cure. But appropriate treatment can result in positive outcomes, especially when started at a young age. Treatments include behavioral and educational interventions, as well as medicines to control some symptoms.
Autism is disabling for people with severe symptoms. For some children symptoms of autism improve with age and therapy. With support, many adults with autism are able to cope with the communication and social challenges. Some people with the mildest forms of autism are able to work successfully in mainstream jobs and live on their own or with help.
Explore other publications and websites
Autism (Copyright © National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities) — This fact sheet provides a definition and overview of autism and pervasive developmental disorders, including incidence, characteristics, educational implications, and where to get more information.
Autism and Communication — This fact sheet describes autism, who it can affect, development of speech and language, communication problems, and research being conducted on autism. It also includes the treatment of speech and language problems and a list of additional resources.
Autism and the MMR Vaccine — This Internet site discusses the latest findings of studies on the relationship between the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine and autism.
Autism Fact Sheet — This publication describes autism and discusses treatments available, prognosis, and research being performed. It also lists additional resources.
Autism Overview: What We Know — This fact sheet provides information about autism, including a description of the disorder, possible signs that a child may be autistic, and treatments available.
Autism Spectrum Disorders — This website from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links to resources about autism from the CDC for families, doctors, researchers, and more.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) — This fact sheet discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatment options of autism spectrum disorders. It also discusses the current research being conducted on autism, clarifying that no link has been found between vaccines and autism in children.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders) — This booklet describes the symptoms, causes, and treatments for autism spectrum disorders, also called pervasive developmental disorders. It also includes information on getting help and coping.
Life With Autism: Stress on Families (Copyright © Autism Society of America) — Having a child can be stressful, but having a child with an autism spectrum disorder can be especially taxing for parents. this web page addresses the concerns that parents of children with autism may have and offers advice on how to deal with stress.
Post Secondary Education — Living with an autism spectrum disorder doesn’t mean you can’t go to college. This fact sheet helps people with autism spectrum disorders and their families prepare for the transition to college.
Connect with other organizations
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autism Research Institute
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, CDC
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, HHS
National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, HHS
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH, HHS
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, NIH, HHS
Content last updated September 22, 2009.
Resources last updated September 22, 2009.
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