What is autism? In a nutshell it's a child with several developmental delays. But the word 'delay' implies that your child will catch up, and that's something that depends on several factors including severity, how your child responds to interventions, and more. Let's not forget there are adults with autism, so the definition below is probably more fitting.
Autism (also commonly known as Autism Spectrum Disorder or simply ASD) is a neurological disorder that affects communication, motor skills, social interaction, behavior, and more. Neurological disorders are in relation to the nerves or the nervous system. But autism is also in relation to the brain. Autism can include intellectual challenge or mental retardation but studies have proven that many people with autism are not less intelligent, but rather they are unable to express themselves. The Autism Society of America defines it as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.
As the parent of a child with autism I've become very familiar with the disability. The history of autism dates back to the early 1900s. In fact, even though I don't have a PhD in medicine or a Master's degree in special education I've become an expert on autism as it pertains to my son. And a lot can be learned from Temple Grandin as well, who is perhaps the most well known person with ASD.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that a person with autism can vary from being mildly affected to being severely impacted. Some people with autism (occasionally referred to as "autistics") are so severely impacted they cannot speak verbally and some are easily over-stimulated in certain environments to the point they cannot contain themselves or control their behavior.
The diagram below depicts the autism spectrum. Person A is mildly affected by ASD. He is represented here by the red marker. Person B, green, would be moderately affected while Person C, blue, would be considered somewhat severe.
Person D, purple, could be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). This person most likely does not exhibit the full array of deficiencies as does someone with the full autism diagnosis. Nevertheless, this person is commonly thought of as being on the mild side of the autism spectrum. Many people also think of Rett Syndrome as being on the spectrum as well.
Autism occurs more often in boys than girls; 4:1. Boys are much more prone to autism. Latest statistics have shown that autism is easily the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. It's on the rise and the number of celebrities living with autism or some form of ASD is rising right along with it. Latest studies indicate 1 in 91 children are diagnosed and autistic disorder does not discriminate based on race, religion, class or anything else.