What Is Autism?

There is no one type of autism, but many.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.*

We now know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, and each person with autism can have unique strengths and challenges.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors influence the development of autism, and autism often is accompanied by medical issues such as:

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
  • Seizures
  • Sleep disturbances

Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children.

Many people with autism also have sensory issues. These can include aversions to certain sights, sounds and other sensations.

Autism’s hallmark signs usually appear by age 2 to 3. Often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier.

* In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four distinct autism diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome

Young Child

Early intervention can change a life.

Research has made clear that high quality early intervention can improve learning, communication and social skills, as well as underlying brain development.

Learn the Signs

Get started with these resources

Are you an adult or teen?

Do you suspect that your feelings and behaviors involve autism? Many people who have milder forms of autism go undiagnosed until adulthood. Find out more in our guide: "Is it Autism and If So, What Next?"

Download the Tool Kit

If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.

- Dr. Stephen Shore