A brain that looks like a jigsaw puzzle


Also known as autism spectrum disorder

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that includes differences or challenges in social communication skills, fine and gross motor skills, speech, and intellectual ability.

The symptoms of autism vary widely in type and severity and are usually seen in early childhood. Some common symptoms include a need for sameness and repetition, anxiety, and atypical responses to sensory input, like unusual sensitivity to light, sound, smell, or taste.  

Most cases of autism are diagnosed through interviews, observation, and evaluations by a psychologist, developmental pediatrician, and pediatric neurologist. While there is no established cure, behavioral, educational, and family therapy may help reduce symptoms and build skills. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes autism?

    While certain medication exposures prior to birth, and a few rare genetic syndromes, may cause autism in a small percentage of cases, for most, the precise etiology remains unknown. Factors that increase the risk of having autism include being a male and having a family history of autism.

  • Is autism genetic?

    Genes most likely play a role in the development of autism. This is supported by research that children with a sibling with autism are more likely to develop it. That said, genetic factors are not the whole picture. Environmental factors are also linked to the development of autism.

  • Do vaccines cause autism?

    Vaccines do not cause autism. This is a fact that has been reaffirmed through numerous scientific studies and is robustly supported by the medical community.

  • What is autism spectrum disorder?

    In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version 5 (DSM-5) created just one diagnostic category for people with autism—called autism spectrum disorder. Therefore, everyone with autism, regardless of their specific symptoms, is now described as having autism spectrum disorder.

  • How is autism diagnosed?

    If a child has symptoms of autism, they will be seen by a team of professionals, including a child psychologist or psychiatrist, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, and child neurologist.  The evaluation will include a medical history, physical exam, and testing of the child's social, language, and cognitive skills. Adults seeking a diagnosis will usually see a psychologist or psychiatrist.

  • What is high-functioning autism?

    High-functioning autism is not an official medical diagnosis and has many different definitions within the autism community. The problem with labeling a person with autism as high functioning, and thus closer to "normal" on the spectrum of functioning, is that the term may be misleading and undermine their need for support.

Key Terms

Boy, 3, eye close-up
What Is Atypical Autism?
autism during COVID-19
Coping With Autism During the COVID-19 Pandemic
A man with Aspergers painting in his art studio
The History and Timeline of Autism
a child holding a cone up to his eye
Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Sensory Integration
Autistic boy playing with toy cars
Important Things to Know About Autism
Little boy interacts with touchpad on a robot's chest
Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Diagnose and Treat Autism
A picture of a child learning how to write his name
Could the SCERTS Model Help Your Child With Autism?
Good job son
5 Controversies in the Autism Community
Child on horse with therapist
How Animals Can Help Treat Symptoms of Autism
Child having tantrum
20 Ways to Help a Child With Autism to Stay Calm or Manage Meltdowns
Group of children on the playground
How to Use Social Stories to Help Your Child Navigate the World
Lonely middle school student in cafeteria
How Lack of Social Motivation Impacts People with Autism
Autism in Girls and Women
Small boy looking out the window
Common and Unusual Symptoms of Autism
Little boy shouting with sound waves
Reasons Why Conversation Is Tough for People With Autism
Boy covering his eyes - stock photo
Health Conditions Associated With Autism
Girl playing with wooden figures on windowsill
Could Your Daughter Be Autistic? 11 Signs of Autism in Girls
Child biting fingernails
Why Do Autistic Children Stim?
Little boy awake in his bed
What Are the Early Signs of Autism?
Kids playing together with telephone cans
How Speech Patterns in Autism Can Affect Communication
Father playing with this daughter outside
Is the Lack of Eye Contact a Symptom of Autism?
Couple with toddler shopping online
Learn How Late Speech Could Be, But Isn't Always, a Sign of Autism
Boy playing with blocks at a table
Could Your Child Have Autism?
An young child lining up his toy cars
Why Autistic Children Play Differently
Little girl playing while her father is trying to talk to her
13 Speech and Communication Issues Your Autistic Child May Be Facing
Little boy crouching on the floor at home playing with building bricks
How Autism May Affect Sympathy and Empathy
Autistic child receives therapy with dolphin trainer and Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Dolphin Reef, Eilat, Israel - Red Sea.
Do Children With Autism Understand What Others Think or Feel?
Toddler boy holding onto his father's legs
Is It Autism? These Red Flags Don't Necessarily Mean a Diagnosis
A stressed mom while her child screams behind her.
5 Signs to Look out for If You're Worried Your Child Has Autism
Young woman squinting eye closed, hand covering ear, close-up
How Sensory Overload Affects Children With Autism
Child and mother doing laundry
How Executive Functioning Deficit in Autism Can Be Improved
A child sorting legos
Hallmark Features and Behaviors That a Child Could Have Autism
a young boy playing with toy cars
Recognizing Repetitive Behaviors in Autism and How to Manage Them
mom and son reading
Why Does My Autistic Child Echo Words and Sounds?
Mature pregnant couple in kitchen using laptop
Autism Risks Related to Pregnancy and Birth
Older father with young daughter
Older Parents Are More Likely to Have Children with Autism
autistic boy playing with blocks
Is There a Connection Between Celiac Disease, Gluten, and Autism?
Boy with Doctor
7 Science-Based Facts About Autism That You May Want to Share
Pregnant woman at the doctor
Potential Risk Factors for Your Child Being Diagnosed With Autism
Frustrated stressed african mom feel tired annoyed about noisy kids
"Bad Parenting" Does Not Cause Autism
Pediatrician with little boy
Tuberous Sclerosis Raises the Risk of Autism
Child (4-5 yeras) wearing space costume hugging mother's leg in shop
8 Things That Don't Cause Autism
Andy Wakefield supporters.
Worried About Vaccines? Unvaccinated Children Can Have Autism, Too
Getting Vaccinated
Why Is Andrew Wakefield Such a Potent Force in the Autism World?
Woman comforts child under a table
What's the Difference Between Autism and Bipolar?
Small boy lining up blocks at preschool
What to Do If Your Think Your Child Might Have Autism
Mother and child looking at mobile phone
Handling an Autism Diagnosis in 5 Steps
Mother doing schoolwork with two sons in front of a computer at the dining table
How to Use Online Tests for Autism
Making Pizza is Fun
Is Autism a Mental Illness?
an exuberant young boy with arms raised
The Most Severe Form of Autism
Family gathered on the couch
Is Autism Really on the Rise?
Girl At The Doctor's
Who Should Test for Autism, and What Tests Should They Use?
Child playing with toys in his room
Could You or Your Child Have Mild Autism?
Nonverbal Autism
Why Doesn't My Autistic Child Use Words to Communicate?
Discover Why PDD-NOS Disappeared From the Diagnostic Manual
3 functional levels of autism
Making Sense of the Three Levels of Autism
Boy playing with bubbles in his backyard
How Are Autistic Behaviors Different From OCD Behaviors?
Doctor using tablet with father and son in clinic
Is It Autism or Social Communication Disorder?
Young girl playing alone
Differences in Diagnosing Autism in Girls and Boys
Child lining up crayons.
What to Know the Broad Autism Phenotype
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Revised March 2018.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. Philadelphia, PA: APA; May 27, 2013.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Reviewed March 2020.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Developmental Disabilities. Reviewed September 2019.