Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. In the great majority of cases, autistic disorders are present from birth or become apparent within the first three years of life.

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The best-known types of autism are ‘typical autism’ and Asperger’s syndrome. People with typical autism have no interest in social interaction, little or no language, and tend to live in their own world. Asperger’s syndrome often applies to those who are more able, who have better language development, and who have more social contact.

Autism causes behavioral patterns that can be deeply distressing. It is of variable severity, and ranges from a complete withdrawal from all social relationships and a total inability to use language meaningfully, to a much milder form of isolationism.

Asperger’s syndrome is a condition similar to, but usually less severe than autism, that affects about 1–2 persons in 1000, males more often than females. Affected people, who are normally intelligent, may be physically clumsy, may have unusually narrow interests bordering on obsessional behavior or have difficulty in managing social relationships.

The causes of autism are not clear. Around 10% relate to a specific medical condition or infection but the remaining 90% have no known cause. Genetic factors are of major importance but other physical conditions affecting development of the brain, before, during or after birth may also be involved.

The condition is hereditary, and if one of a pair of identical twins is affected the other has a 90–95 per cent chance of also being affected. Brothers and sisters of an autistic child are about twice as likely to be autistic as children from families without such a child.

Other sources of information for these topics.

Autism Society of America: Autism Society of America
The society's mission is to promote lifelong access and opportunities for persons within the autism spectrum and their families.

Autism Resources
An index of online information and resources on autism and asperger's symdrome. In addition to the list of links, the site has a FAQ memo and a ...

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