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A to Z: Autism

May also be called: Autistic Disorder; Autism Spectrum Disorder; ASD 

Autism refers to a wide range of developmental disorders that affect the brain and make communicating and interacting with other people more difficult.

More to Know

People with autism have differences in the way their brains develop and process information. They might have language delays or trouble communicating with others, perform certain unusual or repetitive behaviors, or have difficulties learning in school.

No two cases of autism are exactly alike — depending on a person's condition, symptoms can be severe and interfere with everyday tasks, or they can be mild and cause few problems. Doctors and scientists call this range of symptoms a "spectrum."

Causes of autism are not yet fully understood, but scientists believe that genes and environmental factors are involved. Signs of autism are usually recognizable by 2 or 3 years of age and include trouble relating to others, delays in developmental milestones, not using or understanding language as a child that age typically would, and a sense that the child seems to be in his or her "own world."

Treatment for autism is based on individual needs and may include behavioral, educational, speech, and occupational therapies.

Keep in Mind

With early and appropriate treatment that usually includes speech and behavioral therapy, kids and teens with autism can have the opportunity to reach their best potential. Help for those with autism and their families is available through early intervention programs and educational and therapeutic programs offered through local school districts or other educational facilities.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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