What is Autism?

When people refer to “Autism,” they are usually talking about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a brain-based disorder that is characterized by social-communication challenges and restricted and repetitive behaviors, activities and interests.

Autism is about four times more likely to affect boys than girls, and is found in all racial, ethnic, and social groups. There is no known single cause of autism, although the best available science indicates a genetic origin.

Typical ASD behaviors include lack of interest in other people and other social challenges, stereotyped actions (hand flapping, body rocking), insistence on sameness, resistance to change and, in some cases, aggression or self-injury. In about 40% of cases, individuals with autism also have cognitive disability.

How Prevalent Is Autism?

Autism’s prevalence is growing. In 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 1 in 36 eight-year-old children were identified with autism, a rise from the 1 in 44 rate announced in 2021. It is unclear why the rates are rising, although better diagnoses and a change in the definition of autism likely play a role.

What is the Autism Spectrum?

The autism spectrum is very broad. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. People with profound autism typically have significant cognitive impairments and require around-the-clock care, while other people with ASD can have high-powered jobs and live independently. Between 30 to 50% percent of people with autism also have seizures.