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What is Autism?

Autistic disorder (sometimes called autism or classical ASD) is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Autistic children have difficulties with social interaction, display problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and exhibit repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. These behaviors can range in impact from mild to disabling. Autism varies widely in its severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when more debilitating handicaps mask it. Scientists aren’t certain what causes autism, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for autism. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. Treatment options include educational/behavioral interventions, medications, and other therapies. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

What is the prognosis?

For many children, autism symptoms improve with treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives. Children whose language skills regress early in life, usually before the age of 3, appear to be at risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. During adolescence, some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioral problems. Parents of these children should be ready to adjust treatment for their child as needed. People with an ASD usually continue to need services and support as they get older but many are able to work successfully and live independently or within a supportive environment.

What research is being done?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research in its laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and also supports additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. As part of the Children’s Health Act of 2000, the NINDS and three sister institutes have formed the NIH Autism Coordinating Committee to expand, intensify, and coordinate NIH’s autism research. Eight dedicated research centers across the country have been established as “Centers of Excellence in Autism Research” to bring together researchers and the resources they need. The Centers are conducting basic and clinical research, including investigations into causes, diagnosis, early detection, prevention, and treatment of autism.


Association for Science in Autism Treatment

P.O. Box 188
Crosswicks, NJ 08515-0188

Autism National Committee (AUTCOM)

P.O. Box 429
Forest Knolls, CA 94933

Autism Network International (ANI)

P.O. Box 35448
Syracuse, NY 13235-5448

Autism Research Institute (ARI)

4182 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116
Phone: 619.281.7165
Fax: 619.563.6840

Autism Science Foundation

419 Lafayette Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10003
Phone: 646.723.3978
Fax: 212.228.3557

Autism Society of America

4340 East-West Highway, Suite 350
Bethesda, MD 20814
Phone: 301.657.0881
Toll-free: 800.3AUTISM (328.8476)
Fax: 301.657.0869

Autism Speaks, Inc.

1 East 33rd Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Phone: 212.252.8584
Toll-free: 888.288.4762
Fax: 212.252.8676

Birth Defect Research for Children, Inc.

976 Lake Baldwin Lane, Suite 104
Orlando, FL 32814
Phone: 407.895.0802

MAAP Services for Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and PDD

P.O. Box 524
Crown Point, IN 46308
Phone: 219.662.1311
Fax: 219.662.0638

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

U.S. Dept. of Education
Office of Special Education Programs
1825 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202.884.8200
Toll-free: 800.695.0285
Fax: 202.884.8441

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

National Institutes of Health, DHHS
31 Center Drive, Rm. 2A32 MSC 2425
Bethesda, MD 20892-2425
Phone: 301.496.5133
Fax: 301.496.7101

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Information Clearinghouse

1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Toll-free: 800.241.1044
TTD/TTY: 800.241.1055

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

National Institutes of Health, DHHS
111 T.W. Alexander Drive
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
Phone: 919.541.3345

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6001 Executive Blvd. Rm. 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Phone: 301.443.4513
Toll-free: 866.415.8051
TTY: 301.443.8431
Fax: 301.443.4279

Source: NINDS, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health

Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/17/2012…#8915