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What is autism?

Autism is a disorder of neural development. People with autism are characterized by impaired social interaction and communication. Restricted and repetitive behaviors are also signs. People with autism can have very different symptoms of varying severity. For this reason, autism is called a spectrum disorder—a group of disorders with a range of similar features.

What are the signs of autism?

Several behavioral symptoms begin to show in an autistic child by the age of 18 months. These include problems with eye contact, not responding to his or her name, underdeveloped skills in pretend play and imitation, and problems with non-verbal communication and language.

For more information, check out Autism Speaks and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What causes autism?

Right now, scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes autism. But much scientific evidence supports the idea that the genes in a person’s DNA, the function of those genes, and their interactions with one another are underlying causes for the disorder. Current evidence suggests that many more genes may be involved in autism than previously anticipated which are suspected to contribute to varying degrees. Other factors, such as environmental, infectious, and metabolic, may be involved as well. Because autism is so complex, experts suspect several factors are at play.

Who is affected by autism?

Autism occurs equally in all racial, ethnic, and social groups. Three groups are at higher risk: boys, who are three to four times more likely to be affected than girls; siblings of people with autism; and people with certain disorders, like Fragile X syndrome.

What is the prevalence of autism?

A current conservative estimate is that one child in 1,000 children has autism. Scientists are unsure whether autism is more prevalent now than in the past. Some of the increase in identified cases may be a result of greater awareness about autism’s symptoms or from more accurate diagnoses. The new definition of autism as a spectrum disorder also means that even people with mild symptoms can be classified as autistic, which could also explain the increase in identified cases.

Is there a link between vaccines and autism?

In 1998, a paper published by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues in the medical journal, Lancet, asserted a link between childhood vaccinations and an increased risk of developing autism. Attempts to independently replicate the results by other researchers failed to substantiate the paper’s claims. In January 2010, Lancet formally retracted the paper, saying that it was incorrect. Wakefield has been charged with unethical conduct by the United Kingdom’s General Medicine Council.

Thus, there isn’t any scientific evidence that a vaccine or any combination of vaccines causes autism. There is also isn’t any proof that the materials used to make or preserve vaccines cause autism.

Is there a cure for autism?

There currently isn’t a cure for autism. But with the help of early intervention programs, some children with autism make so much progress that they no longer show the full syndrome when they are older.