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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.

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More information on Austism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders

Explore other publications and websites

  • Asperger Syndrome (Copyright © Nemours Foundation) External Website Policy - This publication offers basic information about the autism spectrum disorder of Asperger syndrome, including its signs and symptoms, causes, treatments, and more.
  • Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet - This online publication describes Asperger syndrome and discusses available treatments, prognosis, and research being done. It also lists additional resources.
  • Asperger's Syndrome (Copyright © Autism Society of America) External Website Policy - This page provides in-depth information about Asperger's disorder and links users to local chapters of the Autism Society of America.
  • Autism (Copyright © National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities) External Website Policy - 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 Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Copyright © Nemours Foundation) External Website Policy - This publication explains what pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) are, what causes them, and how they are diagnosed and treated. It also includes information on how to help your child if he or she is diagnosed with a PDD.
  • Autism Fact Sheet - This publication describes autism and discusses treatments available, prognosis, and research being performed. It also lists additional resources.
  • pdf icon  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 (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.
  • Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!: This web page provides information on this federal initiative and its screening tools for families, communities, health care providers, and educators to help them identify developmental delays or disabilities and begin intervention earlier, when it is most effective.
  • Employees with Asperger Syndrome (Copyright © Job Accommodation Network) External Website Policy - This fact sheet answers basic questions about Asperger syndrome (AS) and offers advice to employers about workplace accommodations that can be made for employees with AS.
  • Life with Autism: Stress on Families (Copyright © Autism Society of America) External Website Policy - 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 External Website Policy - 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.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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