What is autism?

Dr. Ronald Leaf
Psychology Specialist

Watch as licensed psychologist and autism specialist Dr. Ronald Leaf explains the definition of autism.

Autism is a brain disorder that makes it hard for a person to communicate and interact with others. A child is born with autism or with the tendency to develop it. And unfortunately, right now it's not something you can prevent.

Autism is the most common of a group of related disorders called autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Autism is a developmental problem that hinders communication and social interaction and is associated with repetitive motor movements and obsessive behaviors. About 1 in 110 kids have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Experts generally believe we've seen an increase because we've broadened the definition and more children are being identified at earlier ages as having ASD because of early intervention programs, as well as possible genetic-environmental interactions that have yet to be identified. Some of the risk factors are having male children, older parents, family history, and a host of syndromes.

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Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder affecting people to varying degrees. Symptoms include impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and restricted interests.

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Autism is a neural developmental disorder that affects the brain's development and causes impairment of social interaction. It usually presents in the first 3 years of life. While many theories are out there about what causes autism, no single cause has been identified. For more information, please visit

Dr. Latha Soorya, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social communication skills and rigid, repetitive behaviors. Autism is considered to present along a spectrum in these core domains and as such, describes a diverse population of individuals ranging in degree of disability. The autism spectrum is also associated with a range of medical and psychiatric comorbidities (e.g. intellectual disability, epilepsy).

William Stillman
Health Education Specialist

Autism is a unique way of being and a natural variation on the human experience. Those with autism are often inherently gentle and exquisitely sensitive. They may perceive the world through a multifaceted, multi-sensory prism more interesting and complicated than those considered typical. Physiologically, autism is a common neurological miscommunication between brain and body that results in vocal and physical blips, misfires, and disconnects. This does NOT affect one's intelligence any more than it does someone recovering from stroke or compromised by cerebral palsy. You've experienced autistic-like symptoms if you've ever awakened in the middle of the night to the realization that your arm is "asleep" and your brain cannot will your deadened limb to budge. What if the same nighttime paralysis arbitrarily shifted to any of your body parts or lodged in your voice box and precluded you from talking? People with autism describe a similar challenge to assimilate with a physical body that feels like cement, causing speech and motoric limitations.

Autism is a lifelong neurological disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate, understand language, play and socially interact with others. The first signs of autism usually appear as developmental delays before age three.

Autism is classified as a developmental disability because it interferes with the typical rate and patterns of childhood development. There are diagnoses closely related to autism such as PDD-NOS (pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified), Asperger’s syndrome, and Rett’s syndrome that are included in the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Source: Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neuro-development disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD. Other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, the rare condition called Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socio-economic groups and affects every age group. Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have ASD. Males are four times more likely to have ASD than females.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD, is not a single disease. Instead, it refers to a group of developmental disabilities that includes a wide range of language deficits as well as emotional and social delays.

“You can have high-functioning and low-functioning autism. And many of these kids are very smart with really high IQs,” says PanteaSharifi-Hannauer, MD, a pediatric neurologist, Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, who specializes in autism and epilepsy.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder with a spectrum of symptoms that range from mild to severe. It is more common in boys and although signs can be found as early as infancy, it is typically noticed between 18 months and 3 years of age. Your pediatrician should screen for autism at the 18- and 24-month checkups, as well as survey your child’s development at every well-child visit. It is also important to note that there are other developmental issues that may cause symptoms similar to autism. As always, talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child’s development.

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Rebecca Jarzynski
Speech Therapy Specialist

Autism is a disorder that affects a child's language and his ability to interact with others. It appears before the age of three, although it may not be diagnosed until later. To be diagnosed with autism, a child must show the following signs: a delay in language, difficulty interacting with others, delays in pretend play, and repetitive behavior. Children with autism sometimes also have cognitive delays and delays in other areas of development as well. Autism is a complex disorder that requires treatment, but there are many treatments available and much hope for children who receive this diagnosis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.