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Autism is a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDD refers to a group of disorders that involve delays or problems in communication and social skills. Autism is the most common type of PDD. Autistic symptoms can be mild to severe, and the level of developmental delay is unique to each child.

The main signs and symptoms of autism involve:

  • Communication problems (spoken and unspoken)
  • Difficulty with aspects of social interaction
  • Repeating behaviors or routines

Children and adults with autism might have difficulty looking you in the eye or have problems talking to you. They might need to perform a ritual so they can pay attention, such as repeating a sentence, or arranging objects in a specific way. They might flap their hands to show happiness, or hurt themselves to show sadness or anger. These behaviors can interfere with social interaction and everyday living.

The cause of autism is not known, but it's likely that genes and the environment play a role. Autism has no cure. But appropriate treatment can result in positive outcomes, especially when started at a young age. Treatments include behavioral and educational interventions, as well as medicines to control some symptoms.

Autism is disabling for people with severe symptoms. For some children symptoms of autism improve with age and therapy. With support, many adults with autism are able to cope with the communication and social challenges. Some people with the mildest forms of autism are able to work successfully in mainstream jobs and live on their own or with help.

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More information on Austism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders

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Content last updated September 22, 2009.

Resources last updated September 20, 2013.

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