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Conditions InDepth: Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of problems that affect the nerves and brain. ASD is usually found in children in the first 2 to 6 years of life. Children with ASD often have behavioral and social problems.

ASD is an umbrella term for autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

ASD affects each child differently. Some are able to live and work on their own, while others may have severe intellectual disabilities or seizures.

The exact cause of ASD is not known. It may be a blend of:

  • Genetics
  • Brain structure
  • How the nerves connect
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Problems during pregnancy or birth that interfered with brain growth

Autism spectrum disorder. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Updated April 26, 2018. August 15, 2019..

Autism spectrum disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: Updated March 2018. Accessed August 15, 2019.

Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated July 1, 2019. Accessed August 15, 2019.

Johnson CP, Myers SM, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2007;120(5):1183-1215.

What is autism? Autism Society website. Available at: Accessed March 14, 2017.

Treatment for autism spectrum disorder. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated May 3, 2018. Accessed August 15, 2019.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 8/15/2019