Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.[4] Parents usually notice signs during the first three years of their child's life.[1][4] These signs often develop gradually, though some children with autism reach their developmental milestones at a normal pace before worsening.[15]

Autism is associated with a combination of genetic and environmental factors.[5] Risk factors during pregnancy include certain infections, such as rubella, toxins including valproic acid, alcohol, cocaine, pesticides and air pollution, fetal growth restriction, and autoimmune diseases.[16][17][18] Controversies surround other proposed environmental causes; for example, the vaccine hypothesis, which has been disproven.[19] Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering connections and organization of nerve cells and their synapses.[20] How this occurs is not well understood.[20] In the DSM-5, autism and less severe forms of the condition, including Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), have been combined into the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).[4][21]

Early behavioral interventions or speech therapy can help children with autism gain self-care, social, and communication skills.[7][8] Although there is no known cure,[7] there have been cases of children who recovered.[22] Not many children with autism live independently after reaching adulthood, though some are successful.[13] An autistic culture has developed, with some individuals seeking a cure and others believing autism should be accepted as a difference and not treated as a disorder.[23][24]

Globally, autism is estimated to affect 24.8 million people as of 2015.[14] In the 2000s, the number of people affected was estimated at 1–2 per 1,000 people worldwide.[25] In the developed countries, about 1.5% of children are diagnosed with ASD as of 2017,[26] from 0.7% in 2000 in the United States.[27] It occurs four-to-five times more often in males than females.[27] The number of people diagnosed has increased dramatically since the 1960s, which may be partly due to changes in diagnostic practice.[25] The question of whether actual rates have increased is unresolved.

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