Organization for Autism Research

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Understanding Autism

Autism or, more commonly today, autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability characterized by deficits in: 1) verbal and nonverbal communication, 2) social interaction, and 3) the presence of repetitive behaviors or interests. Generally diagnosed before the age of three the severity of the impairment can range from relatively mild resulting in a diagnosis within the spectrum of Asperger Syndrome to more severe leading to a diagnosis of more classic autism. If a child has symptoms of either of these disorders, but does not meet the specific criteria of either, the diagnosis is called Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Autism spectrum disorders are found in all cultures and across all socio-economic groups with the ratio boys to girls with ASD being 4 to 1. In the past 30 years the prevalence rate of ASD has skyrocketed. Recent prevalence estimates indicate that autism spectrum disorders occur in 1 out of every 88 children born (CDC 2012) highlighting the facts that autism spectrum disorders are not rare and the importance of effective intervention is critical on a personal, familial and societal level. Why the increase? No one knows for sure. Some epidemiologists point to a broader definition of autism and an increasing awareness among medical professionals as key contributing factors. Others consider the potential impact of environmental factors (e.g., toxins) as a contributing cause. As more and more research is funded and completed this question may soon be answered.