Autism is developmental disability that varies greatly in its effects, but always interferes to some degree in a person's skills in communication and interaction, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autistic disorder can also diminish a person's overall ability to learn and process information.
Autism begins in early childhood, but symptoms for some are subtle enough that they are not detected until much later, state the CDC. There is no medical test that can detect autism. Signs of autism can include ignoring people when they point out objects, avoiding eye contact, a preference for being alone, avoiding physical contact and habitually echoing the things other people say. Other possible signs include a lack of imaginative playing, not knowing how to express needs, trouble adapting to changes in routine, repeating actions multiple times and losing acquired skills.
The causes of autism are not completely known, but genes are thought to play a role, says the CDC. Autism is five times more common in boys than it is in girls. There is no cure for autism, but early treatment can help children maintain the most function into later life. Important coping skills can even be taught to children from birth to three years of age.