Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), which usually begin during early childhood and last throughout a persons life, are a group of developmental disabilities that are caused by unusual brain development (National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities).
ASDs include Autistic Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), and Asperger Disorder. These three conditions share symptoms but differ in terms of when the symptoms start, how fast they appear, how severe they are, and their exact nature (National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities).
People with ASDs tend to have problems with social and communication skills, and have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to different sensations (National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities).
No ASD case is alike, and people vary widely in their abilities, intelligence, and behavior. Common characteristics include language deficits, noticeable physical over-activity or under-activity, and a resistance to change (National Information Center on Children and Youth with Disabilities).
Contrary to popular understanding, many children and adults with ASDs may make eye contact, show affection, smile and laugh, and demonstrate a variety of other emotions (Autism Society of America).
The US National Institute of Health estimates that one American child in 150 is affected with an ASD, compared with one in 10,000 a decade ago.
ASDs are more prevalent in boys than girls; its now estimated that one boy in 94 is diagnosed with autism.
As many as 1.5 million Americans today are believed to have some form of autism. The overall incidence is consistent around the globe, but is four times more prevalent in boys than girls (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
In 2003, more than 140,000 children were served under the Autism classification for special education services. Autism was added as a special education exceptionality in 1991 and is now the sixth most commonly classified disability in the United States (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
No one knows exactly what causes ASDs, but scientists think that both genetic and environmental factors might play a role (National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities).
While there is no known cure, early and intensive education and behavioral intervention can help children grow and learn new skills that help him or her talk, interact, play, learn, and care for his or her needs (National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities).