- Autism is the common term used to refer to Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder that involves abnormal development and function of the brainPeople with autism show decreased social communication skills and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors or interests. (Throughout the rest of this article autism will be referred to as ASD.)
- The term autism (from Greek autos ‘self’ + -ism, a form of “morbid self-absorption”) was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1910 to refer to a subset of childhood schizophrenia. However, the first-ever clinical account of the disorder didn’t appear until 1943 when Leo Kanner, a pioneer in child psychiatry, published “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Disorder” Around that same time Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger wrote about the condition and noticed that many of the children he identified as being autistic were able to use their behaviors to their vocational advantage in adulthood. Asperger’s work was relatively unknown until 1981 when Lorna Wing coined the term “Asperger syndrome” in her paper on the condition.
- Prior to 2013, autism was considered one of five different pervasive developmental disorders that included Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not-Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Rett’s Syndrome. In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V), and the five disorders were subsumed under the diagnosis of ASD. (You can read the diagnostic criteria for the disorder here.)
- Estimates are that 14.6 per 1,000 (one in 68) children aged 8 years are affected by the condition. ASD is estimated to be about four times higher among boys (23.6 per 1,000 or 1 in 42) than among girls (5.3 per 1,000 or 1 in 189), and significantly higher among non-Hispanic white children (15.5 per 1,000) compared with non-Hispanic black children (13.2 per 1,000), and Hispanic children (10.1 per 1,000).
The causes of ASD remain unknown, though it appears to have a strong genetic component. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other will be affected between 36 percent and 95 percent of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other is affected about 0 percent to 31 percent of the time. Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2 percent to 18 percent chance of having a second child who is also affected. ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions.