2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Health and medicine

Classifications and external resources
ICD- 10 F 84.0
ICD- 9 299.0
OMIM 209850
DiseasesDB 1142
MedlinePlus 001526
eMedicine med/3202  ped/180

Autism is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests in delays of "social interaction, language as used in social communication, or symbolic or imaginative play," with "onset prior to age 3 years," according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The ICD-10 also requires symptoms to be "manifest before the age of three years." Autism is often not physiologically obvious, in that outward appearance may not indicate a disorder, and diagnosis typically comes from a complete physical and neurological evaluation.

There have been large increases in diagnosed autism, for reasons that are heavily debated by researchers in psychology and related fields within the scientific community. Some believe this increase is largely due to changed diagnostic criteria and/or societal factors, while others think the reason is environmental. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders to be between 2 and 6 per 1000 births (i.e., between 1 in 500 and 1 in 166 births). The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states the "best conservative estimate" as 1 in 1000.

Although the specific causes of autism are unknown, there is a large database of links between autism and genetic loci that span every chromosome. Further, observations such as autistic children having generally larger head circumferences are intriguing, but their roles in the disorder are unclear. Research continues, however; researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, for example, claim to have found a link between autism, abnormal blood vessel function, and oxidative stress (the result of higher levels of free radicals). This suggests that doors may be opened to new medical therapies if researchers can find more evidence linking decreased blood flow to the brain and oxidative stress with the pathology of autism.

With early intervention, intense therapies (most notably Applied Behavioural Analysis), practice, and schooling, some children diagnosed with autism may improve on their skills to the point of neurotypical children. Some autistic children and adults are opposed to attempts to cure autism, because they see autism as part of who they are.


The word "autism" was first used in the English language by Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler in a 1912 issue of the American Journal of Insanity. It comes from the Greek word for "self," αυτος (autos). Bleuler used it to describe the schizophrenic's seeming difficulty in connecting with other people.

However, the classification of autism did not occur until 1943 when psychiatrist Dr. Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reported on 11 child patients with striking behavioural similarities and introduced the label "early infantile autism." He suggested the term "autism" to describe the fact that the children seemed to lack interest in other people. Kanner's first paper on the subject was published in a now defunct journal called The Nervous Child, and almost every characteristic he originally described is still regarded as typical of the autistic spectrum of disorders.

At the same time, an Austrian scientist named Dr. Hans Asperger made similar observations, although his name has since become attached to a different higher-functioning form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome. Widespread recognition of Asperger's work was delayed by World War II in Germany, and by his seminal paper not being translated into English for almost 50 years. The majority of his work wasn't widely read until 1997.

Autism and Asperger's Syndrome are today listed in the DSM-IV-TR as two of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), which are also referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). All of these conditions are characterized by varying degrees of deficiencies in communication skills and social interactions, along with restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour.


Individuals diagnosed with autism can vary greatly in skills and behaviors, and their sensory system is quite different from that of other people. Certain stimulations, such as sounds, lights, and touch, will often affect someone with autism differently than someone without, and the degree to which the sensory system is affected can vary greatly from one individual to another. On the surface, individuals who have autism are physically indistinguishable from those without. Sometimes autism co-occurs with other disorders, and in those cases outward differences may be apparent. Enlarged brain size appears to accompany autism, but the effects of this are still unknown.

In assessing developmental delays, different physicians may not always arrive at the same conclusions. Much of this is due to the somewhat vague diagnostic criteria for autism, paired with an absence of objective diagnostic tests. Nevertheless, professionals within pediatrics, child psychology, behaviour analysis, and child development are always looking for early indicators of autism in order to initiate treatment as early as possible for the greatest benefit.

Social development

Typically-developing infants are social beings—early in life they gaze at people, turn toward voices, grasp at fingers, and smile. In contrast, most autistic children do not show special interest in faces and seem to have tremendous difficulty learning to engage in everyday human interaction. Even in the first few months of life, many autistic children seem indifferent to other people, lacking the eye contact and interaction with others that non-autistic children are expected to exhibit. Some infants with autism may appear very calm; they may cry less often because they do not seek parental attention or ministration.

Autistic children often seem to prefer being alone and may passively accept such things as hugs and cuddling without reciprocating, or resist attention altogether. Later, they seldom seek comfort from others or respond to parents' displays of anger or affection in a typical way. Research has suggested that although autistic children are attached to their parents, their expression of this attachment may be unusual and difficult to interpret.

According to Simon Baron-Cohen et al, many autistic children appear to lack a " theory of mind," which is the ability to see things from another person's perspective. This is a behaviour cited as being exclusive to human beings above the age of five and possibly, to a lesser degree, to other higher primates such as adult gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Typical 5-year-olds can usually develop insights into other people's knowledge, feelings, and intentions based on social cues (e.g., gestures and facial expressions). An autistic individual may lack these interpretation skills, leaving them unable to predict or understand other people's actions or intentions.

Children with autism often experience social alienation during their school-age years. As a response to this, or perhaps because their social surroundings simply do not "fit" them, many report inventing imaginary friends, worlds, or scenarios. Making friends in real life and maintaining those friendships often proves to be difficult for those with autism.

Although not universal, it is common for autistics to have difficulty regulating their behavior, resulting in crying, verbal outbursts, or self-injurious behaviors that seem inappropriate or without cause. Those who have autism generally prefer consistent routines and environments, and they may react negatively to changes in their surroundings. It is not uncommon for these individuals to exhibit aggression, increased levels of self-stimulatory behaviour, self-injury, or extensive withdrawal in overwhelming situations. However, as the child matures and receives education/training, he or she can gradually learn to control such behaviors and cope with difficult changes in other ways.

Sensory system

Clinicians making a proper assessment for autism would look for symptoms much like those found in Sensory Integration Dysfunction. Children will exhibit problems coping with normal sensory input. Indicators of autism include oversensitivity or underreactivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds; physical clumsiness or carelessness; poor body awareness; a tendency to be easily distracted; impulsive physical or verbal behaviour; an activity level that is unusually high or low; not unwinding or calming oneself; difficulty learning new movements; difficulty in making transitions from one situation to another; social and/or emotional problems; delays in speech, language or motor skills; specific learning difficulties/delays in academic achievement. However, it is important to remember that while most people with autism have some degree of sensory integration difficulty, not every person who has sensory problems is autistic.

One common example is autistic hearing. An autistic person may have trouble hearing certain people while other people are perceived as speaking at a higher volume. Or the autistic may be unable to filter out sounds in certain situations, such as in a large crowd of people (see cocktail party effect). However, this is perhaps a part of autism that tends to vary widely from person to person, so these examples may not apply to every autistic person. Note that such auditory difficulties fall under auditory processing disorders, and like sensory integration dysfunction, are not necessarily experienced by all people with autism or indicative of a diagnosis of autism.

Communication difficulties

By age 3, typical children have passed predictable language learning milestones; one of the earliest is babbling. By the first birthday, a typical toddler says words, turns when he or she hears his or her name, points when he or she wants a toy, and when offered something distasteful, makes it clear that the answer is "no." It should be noted, however, that late language development does occur in a minority of neurotypical children.

Speech development in people with autism takes different paths than the majority of neurotypical children. Some remain mute throughout their lives with varying degrees of literacy; communication in other ways—images, visual clues, sign language, and typing may be far more natural to them. Contrary to the prevailing traditional stereotype of mute people with Kanner-type autism, around one third of people diagnosed with this type of autism will develop what is often viewed as dysfunctional verbal language, relying on rote learned stored phrases, songs, jingles and advertisements. Those with the autism spectrum condition of Semantic Pragmatic Disorder fall into this group.

Those who do speak sometimes use language in unusual ways, retaining features of earlier stages of language development for long periods or throughout their lives. Some speak only single words, while others repeat a mimicked phrase over and over. Some repeat what they hear, a condition called echolalia. Sing-song repetitions in particular are a calming, joyous activity that many autistic adults engage in. Many people with autism have a strong tonal sense, and can often understand at least some spoken language whilst others can understand language fluently.

Some children may exhibit only slight delays in language, or even seem to have precocious language and unusually large vocabularies, but have great difficulty in sustaining typical conversations. The "give and take" of non-autistic conversation is hard for them, although they often carry on a monologue on a favorite subject, giving no one else an opportunity to comment. When given the chance to converse with other autistics, they comfortably do so in "parallel monologue"—taking turns expressing views and information. Just as " neurotypicals" (people without autism) have trouble understanding autistic body languages, vocal tones, or phraseology, people with autism similarly have trouble with such things in people without autism. In particular, autistic language abilities tend to be highly literal; people without autism often inappropriately attribute hidden meaning to what people with autism say or expect the person with autism to sense such unstated meaning in their own words.

Some people with high-functioning Autism demonstrate advanced cognitive ability, but lack the skills or are not inclined to interact with others socially. An example of the this is the noted autistic Temple Grandin, who holds a PhD and is a successful developer of livestock handling technologies. She describes her inability to understand the social communication of neurotypicals as leaving her feeling "like an anthropologist on Mars." Temple's case was described by neurologist Oliver Sacks in his 1995 book titled " An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales."

Some infants who later show signs of autism coo and babble during the first few months of life, but stop soon afterwards. Others may be delayed, developing language as late as the teenage years. Still, inability to speak does not mean that people with autism are unintelligent or unaware. Once given appropriate accommodations, some will happily converse for hours, and can often be found in online chat rooms, discussion boards or websites and even using communication devices at autism-community social events such as Autreat.

Sometimes, the body language of people with autism can be difficult for other people to understand. Facial expressions, movements, and gestures may be easily understood by some other people with autism, but do not match those used by other people. Also, their tone of voice has a much more subtle inflection in reflecting their feelings, and the auditory system of a person without autism often cannot sense the fluctuations. What seems to non-autistic people like odd prosody; things like a high-pitched, sing-song, or flat, robot-like voice may be common in autistic children and some will have combinations of these prosody issues. Some autistic children with relatively good language skills speak like little adults, rather than communicating at their current age level, which is one of the things that can lead to problems.

Since non-autistic people are often unfamiliar with the autistic body language, and since autistic natural language may not tend towards speech, autistic people often struggle to let other people know what they need. As anybody might do in such a situation, they may scream in frustration or resort to grabbing what they want. While waiting for non-autistic people to learn to communicate with them, people with autism do whatever they can to get through to them. Communication difficulties may contribute to autistic people becoming socially anxious or depressed or prone to self-injurious behaviours. Recently, with the awareness that those with autism can have more than one condition, a significant percentage of people with autism are being diagnosed with co-morbid mood, anxiety and compulsive disorders which may also contribute to behavioural and functioning challenges.

Repetitive behaviors

Although people with autism usually appear physically normal and have good muscle control, unusual repetitive motions, known as self-stimulation or " stimming," may set them apart. These behaviors might be extreme and highly apparent or more subtle. Some children and older individuals spend a lot of time repeatedly flapping their arms or wiggling their toes, others suddenly freeze in position. As children, they might spend hours lining up their cars and trains in a certain way, not using them for the type of pretend play expected of a non-autistic child. If someone accidentally moves one of these toys, the child may be tremendously upset. Autistic children often need, and demand, absolute consistency in their environment. A slight change in any routine—in mealtimes, dressing, taking a bath, or going to school at a certain time and by the same route—can be extremely disturbing to them. Autistics sometimes have persistent, intense preoccupations. For example, the child might be obsessed with learning all about computers, TV programs and movie schedules or lighthouses. Often they show great interest in different languages, numbers, symbols or science topics. Repetitive behaviors can also extend into the spoken word as well. Perseveration of a single word or phrase, even for a specific number of times can also become a part of the child's daily routine.

Effects in education

Children with autism are affected by their symptoms every day, which set them apart from unaffected students. Because of problems with receptive language and theory of mind, they can have difficulty understanding some classroom directions and instruction, along with subtle vocal and facial cues of teachers. This inability to fully decipher the world around them often makes education stressful. Teachers need to be aware of a student's disorder, and ideally should have specific training in autism education, so that they are able to help the student get the best out of his or her classroom experiences.

Some students learn more effectively with visual aids as they are better able to understand material presented visually. Because of this, many teachers create “visual schedules” for their autistic students. This allows students to concretely see what is going on throughout the day, so they know what to prepare for and what activity they will be doing next. Some autistic children have trouble going from one activity to the next, so this visual schedule can help to reduce stress.

Research has shown that working in pairs may be beneficial to autistic children. Autistic students have problems not only with language and communication, but with socialization as well. By facilitating peer interaction, teachers can help their students with autism make friends, which in turn can help them cope with problems. This can help them to become more integrated into the mainstream environment of the classroom.

A teacher's aide can also be useful to the student. The aide is able to give more elaborate directions that the teacher may not have time to explain to the autistic child and can help the child to stay at a equivalent level to the rest of the class through the special one-on-one instruction. However, some argue that students with one-on-one aides may become overly dependent on the help, thus leading to difficulty with independence later on.

There are many different techniques that teachers can use to assist their students. A teacher needs to become familiar with the child’s disorder to know what will work best with that particular child. Every child is going to be different and teachers have to be able to adjust with every one of them.

Students with autism spectrum disorders sometimes have high levels of anxiety and stress, particularly in social environments like school. If a student exhibits aggressive or explosive behaviour, it is important for educational teams to recognize the impact of stress and anxiety. Preparing students for new situations, such as through writing social stories, can lower anxiety. Teaching social and emotional concepts using systematic teaching approaches such as The Incredible 5-Point Scale or other cognitive behavioral strategies can increase a student's ability to control excessive behavioural reactions.

DSM definition

Autism is defined in section 299.00 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as:

  1. A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2) and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3):
    1. qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
      1. marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
      2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
      3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
      4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity
    2. qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
      1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
      2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
      3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
      4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
    3. restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
      1. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
      2. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
      3. stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
      4. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
  2. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years:
    1. social interaction
    2. language as used in social communication
    3. symbolic or imaginative play.
  3. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett's Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

These are rules of thumb and may not necessarily apply to all diagnosed autistics.

Types of autism

Autism presents in a wide degree, from those who are nearly dysfunctional and apparently mentally disabled to those whose symptoms are mild or remedied enough to appear unexceptional ("normal") to others. Although not used or accepted by professionals or within the literature, autistic individuals are often divided into those with an IQ<80 referred to as having "low-functioning autism" (LFA), while those with IQ>80 are referred to as having "high-functioning autism" (HFA). Low and high functioning are more generally applied to how well an individual can accomplish activities of daily living, rather than to IQ. The terms low and high functioning are controversial and not all autistics accept these labels.

This discrepancy can lead to confusion among service providers who equate IQ with functioning and may refuse to serve high-IQ autistic people who are severely compromised in their ability to perform daily living tasks, or may fail to recognize the intellectual potential of many autistic people who are considered LFA. For example, some professionals refuse to recognize autistics who can speak or write as being autistic at all, because they still think of autism as a communication disorder so severe that no speech or writing is possible.

As a consequence, many "high-functioning" autistic persons, and autistic people with a relatively high IQ, are under diagnosed, thus making the claim that "autism implies retardation" self-fulfilling. The number of people diagnosed with LFA is not rising quite as sharply as HFA, indicating that at least part of the explanation for the apparent rise is probably better diagnostics. Many also think that ASD's are being over diagnosed: (1) because the growth in the number and complexity of symptoms associated with autism has increased the chances professionals will erroneously diagnose autism and (2) because the growth in services and therapies for autism has increased the number who falsely qualify for those often free services and therapies.

Asperger's and Kanner's syndrome

In the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the most significant difference between Autistic Disorder (Kanner's) and Asperger's syndrome is that a diagnosis of the former includes the observation of "delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play", while a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome observes "no clinically significant delay" in the latter two of these areas.

Whilst the DSM-IV does not include level of intellectual functioning in the diagnosis, the fact that those with Asperger's syndrome tend to perform better than those with Kanner's autism has produced a popular conception that Asperger's syndrome is synonymous with "higher-functioning autism", or that it is a lesser disorder than autism. Similarly, there is a popular conception that autistic individuals with a high level of intellectual functioning in fact have Asperger's syndrome, or that both types are merely ' geeks' with a medical label attached. The popular depiction of autism in the media has been of relatively severe cases, for example, as seen in the films Rain Man (autistic adult) and Mercury Rising (autistic child), and in turn many relatives of those who have been diagnosed in the autistic spectrum choose to speak of their loved ones as having Asperger's syndrome rather than autism.

Autism as a spectrum disorder

Another view of these disorders is that they are on a continuum known as autistic spectrum disorders. Autism spectrum disorder is an increasingly popular term that refers to a broad definition of autism including the classic form of the disorder as well as closely related conditions such as PDD-NOS and Asperger's syndrome. Although the classic form of autism can be easily distinguished from other forms of autism spectrum disorder, the terms are often used interchangeably.

A related continuum, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, involves how well humans integrate the information they receive from their senses. Autism, Asperger's syndrome, and Sensory Integration Dysfunction are all closely related and overlap.

Some people believe that there might be two manifestations of classical autism, regressive autism and early infantile autism. Early infantile autism is present at birth while regressive autism begins before the age of 3 and often around 18 months. Although this causes some controversy over when the neurological differences involved in autism truly begin, some speculate that an environmental influence or toxin triggers the disorder. This triggering could occur during gestation due to a toxin that enters the mother's body and is transferred to the fetus. The triggering could also occur after birth during the crucial early nervous system development of the child.

A paper published in 2006 concerning the behavioural, cognitive, and genetic bases of autism argues that autism should perhaps not be seen as a single disorder, but rather as a set of distinct symptoms (social difficulties, communicative difficulties and repetitive behaviors) that have their own distinct causes. An implication of this would be that a search for a "cure" for autism is unlikely to succeed if it is not examined as separate, albeit overlapping and commonly co-occurring, disorders.


Further information: Frequency of autism and Autism (incidence).
Sex differences

There is not a clear-cut ratio of incidence between boys and girls. Studies have found much higher prevalence in boys at the high-functioning end of the spectrum, while the ratios appear to be closer to 1:1 at the low-functioning end. In addition, a study published in 2006 suggested that men over 40 are more likely than younger men to father a child with autism, and that the ratio of autism incidence in boys and girls is closer to 1:1 with older fathers.

Reported increase with time
The number of reported cases of autism increased dramatically over a decade. Statistics in graph from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The number of reported cases of autism increased dramatically over a decade. Statistics in graph from the National Centre for Health Statistics.

There was a worldwide increase in reported cases of autism over the decade to 2006, which may echo the pattern following the description of schizophrenia in the twentieth century. There are several theories about the apparent sudden increase.

Many epidemiologists argue that the rise in the incidence of autism in the United States is largely attributable to a broadening of the diagnostic concept, reclassifications, public awareness, and the incentive to receive federally mandated services (for example,) However, some authors indicate that the existence of an as yet unidentified contributing environmental risk factor cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, a widely-cited pilot study conducted in California by the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute ( 17 October 2002), reported that the increase in autism is real, even after accounting for changes to diagnostic criteria.

The question of whether the rise in incidence is real or an artifact of improved diagnosis and a broader concept of autism remains controversial. Dr. Chris Johnson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Sciences Centre at San Antonio and co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Autism Expert Panel, sums up the state of the issue by saying, "There is a chance we're seeing a true rise, but right now I don't think anybody can answer that question for sure." ( Newsweek reference below).

The answer to this question has significant ramifications on the direction of research, since a real increase would focus more attention (and research funding) on the search for environmental factors, while the alternative would focus more attention to genetics. On the other hand, it is conceivable that certain environmental factors (such as chemicals, infections, medicines, vaccines, diet and societal changes) may have a particular impact on people with a specific genetic constitution.

One of the more popular theories is that there is a connection between "geekdom" and autism. This is hinted, for instance, by a Wired Magazine article in 2001 entitled "The Geek Syndrome", which is a point argued by many in the autism rights movement. This article, many professionals assert, is just one example of the media's application of mental disease labels to what is actually variant normal behaviour—they argue that shyness, lack of athletic ability or social skills, and intellectual interests, even when they seem unusual to others, are not in themselves signs of autism or Asperger's syndrome. Others assert that children who in the past would have simply been accepted as a little different or even labeled 'gifted' are now being labeled with mental disease diagnoses. See clinomorphism for further discussion of this issue.

Due to the recent publicity surrounding autism and autistic spectrum disorders, an increasing number of adults are choosing to seek diagnoses of high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome in light of symptoms they currently experience or experienced during childhood. Since the cause of autism is thought to be at least partly genetic, a proportion of these adults seek their own diagnosis specifically as follow-up to their children's diagnoses. Because autism falls into the pervasive developmental disorder category, an individual's symptoms must have been present before age seven in order to make a strict differential diagnosis.


There is a broad array of autism therapies, but the efficacy of each varies dramatically from person to person. Progress toward development of medical and behaviour modification remedies, for the more debilitating affects of autism, has been hindered significantly by widespread disagreements over such things as the nature and causes of autistic spectrum disorders, and by a relative paucity of efficacious therapies thus far recognized by medical authorities.


The causes and etiology of autism are areas of debate and controversy; there is currently no consensus, and researchers are studying a wide range of possible genetic and environmental causes. Since autistic individuals are all somewhat different from one another, there are likely multiple "causes" that interact with each other in subtle and complex ways, and thus give slightly differing outcomes in each individual. Two theories environmental theories include the impact of vaccines on the immune system (of which a statistically significant link has never been found despite many attempts; see the vaccine theory sub-heading in the Causes of autism page for a more extensive treatment) and a more recent theory relating autism to high levels of television viewing while young.

There is also a large genetic component to autism. Originally hinting toward this was the observation that there is about a 60% concordance rate for autism in monozygotic (identical) twins, while dizygotic (non-identical) twins and other siblings only exhibit about 4% concordance rates. A theory featuring mirror neurons states that autism may involve a dysfunction of specialized neurons in the brain that should activate when observing other people. In typically-developing people, these mirror neurons are thought to perhaps play a major part in social learning and general comprehension of the actions of others.


Due to the complexity of autism, there are many facets of sociology that need to be considered when discussing it, such as the culture which has evolved from autistic persons connecting and communicating with one another. In addition, there are several subgroups forming within the autistic community, sometimes in strong opposition to one another.

Autistic students generally have difficulties fitting into the education system because of their (sometimes deliberate) eccentricities and their will to be accepted and considered equal to their non-autistic peers in disregard of these eccentricities.

Community and politics

Curing autism is a very highly controversial and politicized issue. What some call the "autistic community" has splintered into several strands. Some seek a cure for autism - sometimes dubbed by pro-cure. Others do not desire a "cure", because they point out that autism is a way of life rather than a "disease", and as such resist it. They are sometimes dubbed anti-cure. Many more may have views between these two. Recently, with scientists learning more about autism and possibly coming closer to effective remedies, some members of the "anti-cure" movement sent a letter to the United Nations demanding to be treated as a minority group rather than a group with a mental disability or disease. Web sites such as present the view of the anti-cure group.

There are many resources available for autistic people. Because many autistics find it easier to communicate online than in person, a large number of these resources are online. In addition, successful autistic adults in a local community will sometimes help children with autism, using their own experience in developing coping strategies and/or interacting with society.

The year 2002 was declared Autism Awareness Year in the United Kingdom—this idea was initiated by Ivan and Charika Corea, parents of an autistic child, Charin. Autism Awareness Year was led by the British Institute of Brain Injured Children, Disabilities Trust, National Autistic Society, Autism London and 800 organizations in the United Kingdom. It had the personal backing of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and parliamentarians of all parties in the Palace of Westminster.


With the recent increases in autism recognition and new approaches to educating and socializing autistics, an autistic culture has begun to develop. Similar to deaf culture, autistic culture is based on a more accepting belief that autism is a unique way of being and not a disorder to be cured. There are some commonalities which are specific to autism in general as a culture, not just "autistic culture".

It is a common misperception that autistic people do not marry; many do seek out close relationships and marry. Often, they marry another autistic, although this is not always the case. Autistic people are often attracted to other autistic people due to shared interests or obsessions, but more often than not the attraction is due to simple compatibility with personality types, the same as for non-autistics. Autistics who communicate have explained that companionship is as important to autistics as it is to anyone else. Multigenerational autistic families have also recently become a bit more noticeable.

It is also a common misperception that autistic people live away from other people, such as in a rural area rather than an urban area; many autistics do happily live in a suburb or large city. However, a metropolitan area can provide more opportunities for cultural and personal conflicts, requiring greater needs for adjustment.

Parents and relatives of autistic adults strongly fear their loved ones would be unsuspected victims of crime and fraud, and autistic adults are said to end up a target for hate crimes. In the U.S. it is a federal felony for one to purposely attack an individual for their disability.

In schools it is commonplace for autistics to be singled out by teachers and students as "unruly," though an autistic student may not understand why his or her actions are considered inappropriate, especially when the student has a logical explanation for his or her behaviour.

The interests of autistic people and so-called " geeks" or " nerds" can often overlap as autistic people can sometimes become preoccupied with certain subjects, much like the variant normal behavior geeks experience. However, in practice many autistic people have difficulty with working in groups, which impairs them even in the most 'geeky' of situations. The connection of autism with so-called geek or nerd behaviour has received attention in the popular press, but is still controversial within these groups.

Speculation arises over famous people and celebrities are now suspected, but unconfirmed, of having autism and Asperger's syndrome. They are rumored to have most symptoms of autism or autistic-spectrum disorder. Biographers, personal physicians and media journalists continually investigate these rumors, but some say that the claims are actually libellous of their character as public figures, being singled out as "odd" or "nerdy" people.

Autistic adults

Communication and social problems often cause difficulties in many areas of the autistic's life. Far fewer adult autistics marry or have children than the general population. Even when they do marry it is more likely to end in divorce than the norm. Furthermore, far fewer autistic adults live in metropolitan areas than the general population, and even if they live near metro areas they are more likely going to experience bullying and poverty than the norm. Nevertheless, as more social groups form, progressively more diagnosed adults are forming relationships with others on the spectrum.

A small proportion of autistic adults, usually those with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome, are able to work successfully in mainstream jobs, although frequently far below their actual level of skills and qualification. Some have managed self-employment; many of those are listed on self-employment sites such as

Others are employed in sheltered workshops under the supervision of managers trained in working with persons with disabilities. A nurturing environment at home, at school, and later in job training and at work, helps autistic people continue to learn and to develop throughout their lives.

It is often said that the Internet, since it is almost devoid of the non-verbal cues that autistics find so hard to interact with, has given some autistic individuals an environment in which they can, and do, communicate and form online communities. The internet has also provided the option of occupations such as, teleworking and independent consulting, which, in general, do not require much human interaction offline.

Under the public law, in the United States, the public schools' responsibility for providing services ends when the autistic person is 21 years of age. The autistic person and their family are then faced with the challenge of finding living arrangements and employment to match their particular needs, as well as the programs and facilities that can provide support services to achieve these goals.

However autism can be a poverty trap for adult and young autistics, many of whom are engaged in unskilled jobs for which they are overqualified, or on welfare benefits. Many parents of autistic children also face financial difficulties as they must often pay for essential support and therapeutic services. Furthermore, autistics who might qualify for financial assistance in one country are not eligible in another, because some nations do not recognize autism as a disability.


When referring to someone who is diagnosed with autism, the term "autistic" is often used. Alternatively, many prefer to use the person-first terminology "person with autism" or "person who experiences autism." However, the autistic community generally prefers "autistic" for reasons that are fairly controversial. This article uses both terminologies.

Autism and blindness

The characteristics of a person with both an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and a severe visual impairment (VI) may vary from a person with just ASD or just VI, and there have been observations of relatively high co-occurrence of the two.

Developmental trajectories of children with ASD-VI are often very similar as those followed by children with typical autism, but the child with ASD-VI will have particularly unusual responses to sensory information. He or she may be overly sensitive to touch or sound, or be under responsive to pain. Typically, touch, smell, and sound are affected the most dramatically. Unusual posture or hands movements are common, and very difficult to redirect. These are so common because of the sensory input issues in addition to the lack of visual modeling.

Autistic savants

The autistic savant phenomenon is sometimes seen in autistic people. Estimates of the prevalence of this phenomenon range between 1% and 10%. The term is used to describe a person who is autistic and has extreme talent in a certain area of study. Although there is a common association between savants and autism (an association made especially popular by the 1988 film Rain Man), most autistic people are not savants and savantism is not unique to autistic people, though there does seem to be some relation. Mental calculators and fast computer programming skills are the most common form. A well known example is Daniel Tammet, the subject of the documentary film The Brain Man ( Kim Peek, one of the inspirations for Dustin Hoffman's character in the film Rain Man, is not autistic). "Bright Splinters of the Mind" is a book that explores this issue further.

Other pervasive developmental disorders

Autism and Asperger's syndrome are just two of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). The three other pervasive developmental disorders are Rett syndrome, Childhood disintegrative disorder, and Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Some of these are related to autism, while some of them are entirely separate conditions.

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