Autism, formally called autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism spectrum condition (ASC), is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction, and repetitive or restricted patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities, which can include hyper- and hyporeactivity to sensory input. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it can manifest very differently in each person. For example, some are nonspeaking, while others have proficient spoken language. Because of this, there is wide variation in the support needs of people across the autism spectrum.
|Repetitively stacking or lining up objects is a common trait associated with autism.|
|Specialty||Psychiatry, clinical psychology, pediatrics, occupational medicine|
|Symptoms||Difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and the presence of repetitive behavior or restricted interests|
|Complications||Social isolation, educational and employment problems, anxiety, stress, bullying, depression, self-harm|
|Causes||Multifactorial, with many uncertain factors|
|Risk factors||Family history, certain genetic conditions, having older parents, certain prescribed drugs, perinatal and neonatal health issues|
|Diagnostic method||Based on combination of clinical observation of behavior and development and comprehensive diagnostic testing completed by a team of qualified professionals (including clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists, pediatricians, and speech-language pathologists)|
|Differential diagnosis||Intellectual disability, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, Rett syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizoid personality disorder, selective mutism, schizophrenia, obsessive–compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, Einstein syndrome, PTSD, learning disorders (mainly speech disorders), social anxiety|
|Management||Applied behavior analysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, psychotropic medication, speech–language pathology|
Psychiatry has traditionally classified autism as a mental disorder, while the autism rights movement and a small but increasing number of researchers see autism as part of neurodiversity, the natural diversity in human thinking and experience, with strengths, differences, and weaknesses. From this point of view, autistic people often still have a disability, but need to be accommodated, rather than cured. This perspective has led to significant controversy among those who are autistic alongside advocates, practitioners, and charities.
There are many theories about what causes autism; it is highly heritable and believed to be mainly genetic, but many genes are involved, and environmental factors may also be relevant. The syndrome frequently co-occurs with other conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, and intellectual disability. Disagreements continue about questions such as what should be included as part of the diagnosis, whether there are meaningful subtypes of autism, and the significance of autism-associated traits in the wider population. The combination of broader criteria and increased awareness has led to a trend of steadily increasing estimates of autism prevalence, causing a misconception that there is an autism epidemic and perpetuating the myth that it is caused by vaccines.
There is no known method to prevent or cure autism. Many forms of therapy, such as speech and occupational therapy, have been developed that may help autistic people. Some forms of therapy, such as applied behavior analysis, are controversial in the autism rights movement, with many advocates considering them unhelpful and unethical. Intervention can require accommodations such as alternative modes of communication. The use of medicine is usually focused on associated conditions such as epilepsy or treating certain symptoms.