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What is Autism?

by Ayda Halker



Below is information on Autism.  This is an area in which there is still much work to be done.  Many thanks to Ayda Halker and AutismOnline at  http://www.autismonline.org   The Center appreciates Ayda contributing this concise and clear explanation of this disability.  If you have have and questions of comments please send them icdri@icdri.org 

Autism is a devastating neurological disorder that is usually diagnosed in small children within the first two years of life. Autism causes lifelong, severe impairments in language, communication, cognition, and sensory systems. Most children with autism will be dependent on supervised care for the rest of their lives. These children seemingly develop normally, and around 1-2 years of age either they do not develop any language or they show severe regression in language and other skills.

Autism was once thought to be a rare disorder, but now it is known to be more common. It is the third most common developmental disorder after mental retardation and cerebral palsy. The incidence of autism was historically thought to be 1 or 2 in 1,000, sometimes even reported as 1 in 10,000; however, recent reports in some areas of the world have shown incidence rates to be as high as 1 in 150 children. Autism is a “spectrum disorder,” meaning that individuals with autism can vary greatly in their abilities and level of intelligence. As devastating as autism can be, early and intensive educational intervention has been demonstrated scientifically to make dramatic improvements in the functioning level of children with autism, and in some cases the outcome has been complete “recovery.” Recovery refers to cases where children have become comparable in skills and abilities to same-age peers. Also, a minority of cases are what is known as Asperger’s Syndrome, also called “high-functioning autism.”

There is no cure for autism at present, and there is no medical test to diagnose autism. The only way autism may be diagnosed is through observation of behaviors and assessment of skills by a trained professional.

The link below contains the DSM-IV Criteria for autism of the American Psychological Association:


This link is for the CHAT- Checklist for Autism in Toddlers that a parent or pediatrician can use if they are concerned that a small child may have autism. It is a series of simple questions.


Parent-founded research organizations have made great strides towards raising funds for autism research and through their efforts this research has begun to shed light on the possible causes of autism beyond the known causes. Known causes in a very small number of cases include PKU and Tuberous Sclerosis. Most children diagnosed with autism have neither of these disorders, but are considered to have “idiopathic autism.” Autism is known to run in families and there is a high concordance of autism in twins. If one twin has autism, there is a very good chance the other twin does as well. Recent research has focused on the hunt for the “autism gene.” What has been found is that autism is likely a genetic disorder that may involve as many as 5-10 defective genes working in combination.

For more information and support from autism organizations, please visit:

Cure Autism Now

National Alliance for Autism Research

The Autism Society of America

You may also find more information on our Autism Resource Page and the Books on Autism section as well.

This page was brought to you by AutismOnline.org 
AutismOnline Logo with a link to the site

“Linking autism parents and professionals to products, education, research, and support in their own language…




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