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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability characterized by a wide range of impairments in social communication and behavior. A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

Autism spectrum disorder affects approximately 1 percent of the population.

What are the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children?

Diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder include deficits in social communication and restricted interests. Autism spectrum disorder is typically evident during the second year of life. In severe cases, a lack of social behavior may be noted even in the first year. Although language impairment is not a core diagnostic requirement, a child who has not developed any language by 12 to 18 months with diminished social behavior frequently will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. In up to 25 percent of cases, some language develops and is subsequently lost.

Autism spectrum disorder in children with normal intellectual function and mild impairment in language function may not be identified until middle childhood when both academic and social demands are increased. Children with autism spectrum disorder often exhibit idiosyncratic intense interest in a narrow range of activities, resist change, and typically do not respond to their social environment in accordance with their peers.

Does the incidence of autism differ in boys and girls?

Yes. Autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed four times more often in boys than in girls.

Is Autism Spectrum Disorder genetic?

Studies suggest that autism spectrum disorder is partly genetic. Up to 15 percent of cases of the disorder appear to be associated with a known genetic mutation. However, in most cases, its expression is dependent on multiple genes. Researchers who screened the DNA of more than 150 pairs of siblings with autism spectrum disorder found evidence of two regions on chromosomes 2 and 7 containing genes that may contribute to autism spectrum disorder. Additional genes thought to be involved were found on chromosomes 16 and 17.

What are treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Comprehensive treatment for autism spectrum disorder includes intensive behavioral programs, parent training and participation, and academic/educational interventions to expand an individual’s social skills, communication, and language. Medications used to treat autism spectrum disorder are mainly directed at improving behavioral symptoms rather than core features of the disorder. Symptoms targeted include irritability, aggression, temper tantrums and self-injurious behavior, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.

Mental Health Library Sources:

Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.


Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.

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