Autism: A Complex Disorder

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)?
Autism spectrum disorders are a group of complex neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders may also be affected by other symptoms, including attention deficit and hyperactivity, anxiety, cognitive impairment, gastrointestinal disease and seizures. Autism spectrum disorder includes autism, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). While severity and characteristics vary, autism spectrum disorders affect all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. In a December 2009 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that ASD affects 1 in 110 children born in the United States and almost 1 in 70 boys.

Causes of Autism
Researchers are unsure what causes most cases of autism, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role. Just as autism presents itself in a variety of ways, there are probably also multiple causes. Scientists have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder, and studies of people with autism have found irregularities in several regions of the brain. For parents with one autistic child, the risk of having a second child with ASD is about 1 in 20, more than five times as great as for the general population.

Autism Treatment
A variety of medications and behavioral interventions have been used to treat individual symptoms, but there are no disease modifying treatments that address the underlying disorder.