autism (ô´tĬzəm), developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. It is characterized by the abnormal development of communication skills, social skills, and reasoning. Males are affected four times as often as females. Children may appear generally normal until around the age of 24 to 30 months, although studies have identified signs of autism in children under a year of age.

Symptoms, which vary widely in severity, include impairment in social interaction, fixation on inanimate objects, inability to communicate normally, and resistance to changes in daily routine. Characteristic traits include lack of eye contact, repetition of words or phrases, unmotivated tantrums, inability to express needs verbally, and insensitivity to pain. Behaviors may change over time. Autistic children often have other disorders of brain function; about two thirds are mentally retarded; over one quarter develop seizures.

The cause of autism remains unclear, but a psychological one has been ruled out. Neurological studies indicate a primary brain dysfunction, perhaps related to abnormalities that appear to occur in the way the autistic child's brain develops. A genetic component is suggested by a pattern of autism in some families, and studies have suggested that a number of genes may be involved. Exposure in the womb to elevated levels of steroid hormones has been found to be associated with autism in boys in one study, but study compared the average levels of two groups of boys (one with, the without, autism) and individual levels in the two groups overlapped. The condition also appears to be more common in children born to older mothers or older fathers. Treatment in which autistic children are intensively and repetitively taught skills and behaviors from a young age appears to help some children with the disorder.

See T. Grandin, Emergence: Labeled Autistic (with M. M. Scariano, 1986, repr. 1996), Thinking in Pictures (1995), and The Autistic Brain (with R. Panek, 2013); L. Wing, ed., Aspects of Autism (1988). See also publications of the Autism Society of America.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Autism: Selected full-text books and articles

Lisa D. Benaron.
Greenwood Press, 2009
Understanding Autism: Parents, Doctors, and the History of a Disorder
Chloe Silverman.
Princeton University Press, 2012
Autism Spectrum Disorders: Identification, Education, and Treatment
Dianne Zager.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005 (3rd edition)
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Eric Hollander.
Marcel Dekker, 2003
The Development of Autism: Perspectives from Theory and Research
Jacob A. Burack; Tony Charman; Nurit Yirmiya; Philip R. Zelazo.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Autism: An Introduction to Psychological Theory
Francesca Happé.
UCL Press, 1994
When Autism Strikes: Families Cope with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
Robert A. Catalano.
Plenum Press, 1998
The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders
Bryna Siegel.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Autism: Neural Basis and Treatment Possibilities
Gregory Bock; Jamie Goode.
Wiley, 2003
Helping Children with Autism Learn: Treatment Approaches for Parents and Professionals
Bryna Siegel.
Oxford University Press, 2003
Autism and Childhood Psychosis
Frances Tustin.
Karnac Books, 1995
A Passion to Believe: Autism and the Facilitated Communication Phenomenon
Diane Twachtman-Cullen.
Westview Press, 1997
New Developments in Autism: The Future Is Today
Juan Martos Pérez; Pedro M. González; María Llorente Comí; Carmen Nieto.
Jessica Kingsley, 2007
The Protective Shell in Children and Adults
Frances Tustin.
Karnac, 1990
A Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism: How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive
Sally Ozonoff; Geraldine Dawson; James McPartland.
Guilford Press, 2002
That's Life with Autism: Tales and Tips for Families with Autism
Donna Satterlee Ross; Kelly Ann Jolly.
Jessica Kingsley, 2006
I Am Special: Introducing Children and Young People to Their Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Peter Vermeulen.
Jessica Kingsley, 2000
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