A spectrum of neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication, and unusual and repetitive behavior. Some, but not all, people with autism are non-verbal. Autism is normally diagnosed before age six and may be diagnosed in infancy in some cases. The degree of autism varies from mild to severe in different children. Severely afflicted patients can appear profoundly retarded. The cause (or causes) of autism are not yet fully understood. However, it is believed that at least some cases involve an inherited or acquired genetic defect. Researchers have proposed that the immune-system, metabolic, and environmental factors may play an important part as well. It is not caused by emotional trauma, as was once theorized. Autism or autistic-like behavior may co-occur with many other neurological conditions. The optimal treatment of autism involves an educational program that is suited to the child's developmental level. Autism is also called the Kanner syndrome or infantile autism. See also Asperger syndrome, elective mutism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Rett syndrome.
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A mental disorder characterized by severely abnormal development of social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Affected individuals may adhere to inflexible, nonfunctional rituals or routine. They may become upset with even trivial changes in their environment. They often have a limited range of interests but may become preoccupied with a narrow range of subjects or activities. They appear unable to understand others' feelings and often have poor eye contact with others. Unpredictable mood swing s may occur. Many demonstrate stereotypical motor mannerisms such as hand or finger flapping, body rocking, or dipping. The disorder is probably caused by organically based central nervous system dysfunction, especially in the ability to process social or emotional information or language. [G. autos, self]
- early infantile a. SYN: infantile a..
- infantile a. a severe emotional disturbance of childhood characterized by qualitative impairment in reciprocal social interaction and in communication, language, and social development. SYN: childhood schizophrenia, early infantile a., Kanner syndrome.

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au·tism 'ȯ-.tiz-əm n a developmental disorder that appears by age three and that is variable in expression but is recognized and diagnosed by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others, and by stereotyped behavior patterns esp. as exhibited by a preoccupation with repetitive activities of restricted focus rather than with flexible and imaginative ones

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1. (Kanner's syndrome, infantile autism) a rare psychiatric disorder of childhood, with an onset before the age of 2½ years. It is marked by severe difficulties in communicating and forming relationships with other people, in developing language, and in using abstract concepts; repetitive and limited patterns of behaviour (see stereotypy); and obsessive resistance to tiny changes in familiar surroundings. Autistic children find it hard to understand how other people feel, and so tend to remain isolated even into adult life. About 50% have learning disabilities, but some are very intelligent and may even be gifted in specific areas (see idiot savant). The cause is unknown, but genetic factors and brain damage may be important. The condition often progresses into adulthood, and independent living is uncommon. Treatment is not specific, but lengthy specialized education is usually necessary. Behaviour problems and anxiety can be controlled with behaviour therapy and drugs (such as phenothiazines).
2. the condition of retreating from realistic thinking to self-centred fantasy thinking: a symptom of personality disorder and schizophrenia.
autistic adj.

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au·tism (awґtiz-əm) [aut- + -ism] 1. autistic disorder. 2. autistic thinking.

Medical dictionary. 2011.

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