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Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s development.

What It Is

Autism is a chemical and biological disorder of the brain that impairs normal development of communication, social and behavioral skills. Symptoms of autism appear early in life, usually between infancy and three years of age. While symptoms may vary greatly between cases, an underlying commonality in children with autism is a difficulty communicating or interacting with other people.

Some children with milder forms of autism may gradually learn to cope with their disability, and eventually be able to lead normal, independent lives. Many children, however, will experience ongoing difficulty gaining new knowledge of skills and will struggle with communication and social functioning with increasing difficulty as they enter adolescence. Some children with autism display lower than average intelligence, while others have normal, or even high intelligence.

Experts estimate that six out of every 1,000 children are born with autism. Males are four times more likely to have autism than females. Disorders that commonly co-occur in children with autism include:

  • Epileptic seizures (found in 20-30% of cases)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention deficit disabilities


Early indicators of autism in infants may include:

  • Late language development (no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age two)
  • Poor eye contact
  • Lack of language or social skills
  • Lack of smiling or social responsiveness
  • Unresponsiveness to their name

Symptoms of autism in older children may include:

  • Impaired social interaction
    • Child is unable to make friends, avoids of eye contact, lacks awareness of others’ feelings, prefers to spend time alone
    • Difficulty with communication
      • Child is unable to start or maintain a conversation, depends more on gestures than on words, experiences late or absent language development, uses nonsense rhyming, repeats memorized passages (such as commercials), speaks in strange cadences (such as in a robotic or sing-song tone), refers to self in second or third person (“you”, “he/she” or by his or her own name rather than “I” or “me”)
      • Behavioral disturbances
        • Child throws tantrums, has a short attention span, shows aggression to self or others (such as biting or head-banging), preforms repetitive body movements (such as rocking or spinning), shows unusual distress when routines are changed
        • Altered response to sensory information
          • Child appears to have a heightened or low response to pain, rubs or licks surfaces,shows unusually high or low sensitivity to light, sounds, tastes, scents or touch



Clomid: A recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that maternal use of the fertility drug Clomid may be a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder. The study, which analyzed surveys and birth records from thousands of mothers, found that mothers who took Clomid during the two months prior to conception or during the first month of pregnancy, were almost twice as likely to deliver an autistic child.  


Treatment is most effective when started early in childhood. Treatment may include several components, including:

  • Medications used to treat emotional or behavioral symptoms of autism, such as:
    • Aggression/irritability
    • Anxiety
    • Attention problems
    • Compulsions
    • Hyperactivity
    • Sleep difficulty
    • Highly structured training sessions, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Sessions emphasize the development of skills that will make the child as close to normally functioning as possible.
    • Occupational therapy
    • Physical therapy
    • Speech-language therapy

Birth Defect Resource website contains articles and content developed by medical professionals and other writers. The content provided by is intended for educational purposes only. Such content is not intended to, and does not, constitute medical or healthcare advice or diagnosis, and may not be used for such purposes. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Reliance on such information provided by is at your own risk.

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