Autism - or more precisely the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) - represents a broad group of developmental disorders characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors, or severely limited activities and interests.
- Our Commitment to Supporting Individuals on the Autism Spectrum and their Families
- The Affordable Care Act and Autism and Related Conditions
- Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Facts from the CDC – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers facts about autism, types of ASDs, signs and symptoms.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders from the NIMH – The National Institute of Mental Health offers general information about Autism.
- Autism Information from the NINDS – The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke offers general information on autism.
- Autism Information from the NHGRI – The National Human Genome Research Institute offers general information about autism and its symptoms.
- Autism from Medline Plus – The National Library of Medicine offers general information about autism.
- CDC estimates 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder
Signs & Symptoms
ASDs begin before the age of three and last throughout a person's life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had.
Learn more about symptoms
- Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) – CDC autism spectrum disorder signs and symptoms include examples of the range of symptoms, possible ‘red flags’, social skill issues, communication skill issues, and other indicators.
- Checklist of development skills – CDC Developmental skills web site has an interactive milestones checklist.
- NIMH Autism Indicators – National Institute of Mental Health autism indicators.
- NHGRI autism symptoms – National Human Genome Research Institute information on symptoms.
- Autism Symptoms – Medline Plus information about signs and symptoms.
Screening & Diagnosis
Diagnosing ASDs can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis. ASDs can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age two, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable.
Learn more about screening and diagnosis
- Autism Screening and Diagnosis – CDC Autism Spectrum Disorder screening and diagnosis information.
- Screening and Diagnosis for Healthcare Providers – CDC developmental screening and diagnostic tools.
- Exams and tests – Medline Plus information about exams and tests.
There is no single best treatment for all children with ASDs. There are many different types of treatments available, such as: auditory training, discrete trial training, vitamin therapy, anti-yeast therapy, facilitated communication, music therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and sensory integration.
Learn more about treatments
- Autism Treatments - CDC information on early intervention services, types of treatments, behavior and communication approaches, dietary approaches, and medication.
- How is ASD Treated? - Information from the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Treatment – Medline Plus information on treatments.
Causes, Risk Factors, & Prevalence
We do not know all of the causes of ASDs. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASDs. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.
Learn more about causes, risk factors, and prevalence
- Causes and Risk Factors – CDC information on causes and risk factors.
- Is autism inherited – National Human Genome Research Institute information on genetics and autism.
- Understanding Risk Factors and Causes – CDC research on risk factors and causes.
- Data & Statistics – CDC information on prevalence, risk factors, and characteristics, and economic costs associated with autism.
Relationship of vaccines and autism
- Vaccines and autism – CDC information on vaccines and autism.
- General Questions and Answers on Thimerosal - CDC information on vaccines that contain thimerosal.
- Thimerosal in Vaccines – FDA information includes safety review of vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders
- Thimerosal in Vaccines Questions and Answers – FDA information discusses reports examining vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders
- Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism – Institute of Medicine report on vaccines and autism
- Mercury and Vaccines (Thimerosal)[DHHS1] – CDC information on thimerosal (preservative) found in vaccines and autism.
- Relationship of vaccines and autism – CDC information on the relationship between vaccines and autism.
- Vaccine Safety – CDC information on monitoring health problems after vaccination identifies possible vaccine side effects.
Research & Clinical Trials
Several government agencies are involved in activities related to autism research.
- CDC Features: Autism Research – Overview of the CDC’s Study to Explore Early Development (SEED)
- NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) – NIH supports the ACE program, which comprises 11 research centers and networks at major research institutions and universities across the country. The program focuses on research to identify the causes of ASD and develop new and improved treatments.
- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network – CDC funded programs to determine the number of people with autism.
- Centers for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) – CDC established regional centers of excellence for autism and other developmental disabilities.
- Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) – CDC funded study in the United States to help identify risk factors that may put children at risk for autism and other developmental disabilities.
- Autism Clinical Trials – National Institutes of Health ClinicalTrials.gov Website that catalogs results for autism clinical trials.
- HRSA: Combating Autism Act – programs address some of the most urgent issues affecting people with autism and their families: increasing awareness; reducing barriers to screening and diagnosis; supporting research; promoting evidence-based guidelines; and training professionals.
The Combating Autism Act (CAA) of 2006 (Public Law 109-416, PDF – 49KB) requires the IACC to develop and annually update a Strategic Plan for ASD research. Each year, the members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) identify recent research findings that made the most impact on the field. The Strategic Plan is an advisory document to the U.S. Congress, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding the needs and opportunities for ASD research.
- Report on State Services to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) - Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ASD Services Project (PDF, [883.94KB]) - The report assesses the implementation of evidence-based/promising practices through the lens of state experience. The report summarizes the current state of Autism Spectrum Disorder-related services in nine representative states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It describes the types of services and supports provided under the auspices of state and local governments; the sources of funding for those programs; and the policy, staffing, and implementation issues that must be addressed to effectively serve persons with ASD.
- Therapies for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders (PDF [5.9 MB]) - Some medical and behavioral treatments show promise for reducing certain behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders, but more research is needed to assess the potential benefits and harms, according to a new report funded by HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
- Autism Organizations – National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke list of autism organizations
- Autism Web sites – CDC maintained links to other Web sites including those for families, financial resources for health care, assistive technology, healthcare providers, early intervention, educators, researchers, public and restricted-use data sets, and federal resources.
- Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee– Coordinates all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services concerning autism spectrum disorder to combat autism through research, screening, intervention and education.
Content last reviewed on April 6, 2011