Autism is a presentation of neurodivergence as well as a developmental disability that includes differences or challenges in social communication skills, fine and gross motor skills, speech, and intellectual ability. Autistic traits most often appear in early childhood, and every autistic person has a different mix of characteristics, strengths, and support needs. While autism isn't a disease to be "cured," behavioral, educational, and family therapy may help with building skills and overcoming challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes autism?

    There is no known cause of autism, but it is a form of neurodivergence that tends to run in families. Autism is a way of being a human, and being autistic is not a disease, disorder, or illness. Subsequently, there is no cure for autism. Rather, autistic people are able to thrive when they are accepted as their full selves and their needs are met.

  • Is autism genetic?

    Genes most likely play a role in people being autistic. This is supported by research that children with an autistic sibling are more likely to be diagnosed as autistic. That said, genetic factors are not the whole picture.

  • Do vaccines cause autism?

    Vaccines do not cause autism. This is a fact that has been reaffirmed through numerous scientific studies and is robustly supported by the medical community.

  • What is autism spectrum disorder?

    In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version 5 (DSM-5) created just one diagnostic category for autistic people—called autism spectrum disorder. Therefore, every autistic person, regardless of their specific traits, is now described as having autism spectrum disorder.

  • How is autism diagnosed?

    If a child is thought to be autistic, they will be seen by a team of professionals, including a child psychologist or psychiatrist, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, and child neurologist. The evaluation will include a medical history, physical exam, and testing of the child's social, language, and cognitive skills. Adults seeking a diagnosis will usually see a psychologist or psychiatrist.

  • What is high-functioning autism?

    High-functioning autism is not an official medical diagnosis and has many different definitions within the autistic community. The problem with labeling an autistic person as high functioning, and thus closer to neurotypical or "normal" on the spectrum of functioning, is that the term may be misleading and undermine their need for support.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. About Autism - Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. Philadelphia, PA: APA; May 27, 2013.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Reviewed March 2020.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Developmental Disabilities. Reviewed September 2019.