Autism is a complex disorder of the central nervous system that has the following 3 defining core features:
- Problems with social interactions
- Impaired verbal and nonverbal communication
- A pattern of repetitive behavior with narrow, restricted interests
A number of other associated symptoms frequently coexist with autism. Most children with autism have problems using language, forming relationships, and appropriately interpreting and responding to the external world around them.
Autism is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder that begins in early childhood. Although the diagnosis of autism may not be made until a child reaches preschool or school age, the signs and symptoms of autism may be apparent by the time the child is aged 12-18 months, and the behavioral characteristics of autism are almost always evident by the time the child is aged 3 years.
Language delay in the preschool years (younger than 5 years) is typically the presenting problem for more severely affected children with autism. Higher functioning children with autism are generally identified with behavioral problems when they are aged approximately 4-5 years or with social problems later in childhood. Autism persists throughout the person’s lifetime, although many people are able to learn to control and modify their behavior to some extent.