Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders

(Autism; ASD)


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of brain disorders. The disorders result in social, behavioral, and communication problems.

Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders used to be separate problems. They are now included in ASD.


ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that it is caused by problems in brain development. The reason why this happens is not known. It is thought to be caused by genetics or problems during pregnancy, such as infection.

Infant Brain—Period of Rapid Development

Infant Brain and skull
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

ASD is more common in boys. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having a sibling who has ASD
  • Having a mother who is 40 years of age or older or a father who is 50 years of age or older
  • Problems during pregnancy or delivery
  • Genetic problems

Many people with ASD also have other developmental, medical, or mental health problems. The reason why is not known.


ASD often appears between 2 to 6 years old. Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Communication and social interaction problems, such as:
    • Not making eye contact
    • Not listening to others
    • Not pointing or showing things to others
    • Not responding to others, such as when a person's name is called
    • Problems with back and forth communication
    • Talking about the same thing for a long time without noticing others are not interested
    • Having body language that does not match what is being said
    • Having a strange tone of voice, such as like a robot
    • Not understanding another person's feelings and needs
  • Narrow interests and behaviors, such as:
    • Repeating behaviors or having strange behaviors, such as repeating words or phrases
    • Having a strong interest in specific topics
    • Getting upset by small changes in routine
    • Being sensitive to sensory input, such as noise


You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. You will also be asked questions about behavior, social skills, and communication abilities. Parents will be asked about their child's behavior. A physical will be done.

Tests will be done to learn more about how the person's brain works. This can be done with neuropsychological tests. The tests will be given by a care team that is experienced in diagnosing ASD.

These tests may be done to rule out health problems that have similar symptoms:

  • Blood tests
  • Hearing tests

An electroencephalogram (EEG) may also be done to record brain activity.


The goal of treatment is to improve function and quality of life. With treatment, many people can learn how to cope with ASD. They may be able to work and live on their own. Others may need support throughout their lives.

Symptoms may decrease over the years. Treatment should be started early. It may include:

  • Speech, physical, or occupational therapy to improve function
  • Social skills training to improve how a person relates to others
  • Applied behavioral analysis to improve behaviors, such as communication and social skills
  • Services that provide support in school
  • Mental health counseling
  • Medicine to help manage symptoms, such as anxiety


There are no current guidelines to prevent ASD. The cause is not known.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Autism Canada Foundation


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Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed September 9, 2020.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Johnson CP, Myers SM, et al. Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2007 Nov;120(5):1183-1215.
What is autism? The Autism Society website. Available at:
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Accessed September 9, 2020.
1/26/2018 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Rai D, Lee BK, et al. Antidepressants during pregnancy and autism in offspring: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2017 Jul 19;358:j2811.
Last reviewed March 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN
Last Updated: 3/17/2021

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