What Is Autism?

A pervasive developmental disorder, autism affects information processing in multiple ways. Many people with autism have difficulties with social interactions and communication, sensory deficits, and poor motor coordination. People with autism often have restricted interests and engage in repetitive behaviors.

Because autism's symptoms vary greatly, the condition is said to exist on a spectrum, referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder. (Asperger's Syndrome is a condition that is considered to be "high functioning" autism.) Some people with autism have low intelligence while others are quite intelligent.

Autism usually manifests by age two. It affects far more males than females. The frequency of diagnosis has surged over the past 20 years; it is not clear whether the incidence is truly increasing, whether experts are more alert to it, or whether the diagnosis has shifted to include lesser degrees of impairment. No one knows for sure what causes autism, but numerous studies link it to advanced maternal and/or paternal age at conception increasing the risk of direct genetic mutations or of factors that influence the expression of genes in he developing brain.

Some research suggests that autism reflects an "extreme male brain," because people with the condition often have an obsession with details and systematizing but are low on empathic ability. Reports implicating mercury-containing vaccines have proved baseless, although there is some evidence that environmental toxins may play a role. There is no cure for autism, but some symptoms may ease over the years.

Recent posts on Autism

Beyond Reality: Pretend Play Matters

By Brittany N Thompson on November 18, 2017 in Socioemotional Success
What is pretend play? How does pretend contribute to social skill development? What does all of this mean for everyday contexts and interactions for young children?

Sex, Lies, and Autism Research—Getting Value for Our Money

By John Elder Robison on November 12, 2017 in My Life With Asperger's
In the past decade, we’ve spent over a billion dollars studying autism. Yet precious little has changed for autistic people. An autistic adult asks why, and offers some advice.

The Essential Narcissism of Parenthood

By Barb Cohen on November 09, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Telling a parent not to be narcissistic is about as useful as telling a child to ignore a candy store’s display window. Parents are wired to see their babies as perfect mirrors.

Too Many Synaptic Connections in Cerebellum Creates Problems

By Christopher Bergland on November 04, 2017 in The Athlete's Way
Contrary to popular belief, a growing pile of research shows that too many synaptic connections can impede brain function.

26 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Our Love For Pets

By Hal Herzog Ph.D. on October 30, 2017 in Animals and Us
This controversial new book examines the psychology and evolution of our love for animals. (And it explains why you should probably not get a pug if you are looking for a pet.)

How Can Shootings Such as Sandy Hook Be Prevented?

Were there warning signs before Adam Lanza's rampage shooting? Yes, and we can change how we respond to save lives.

Is Society Progressing in Its Response to Autism?

By Barb Cohen on October 16, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
The television producer suggested that my daughter skip class the day of filming. She has too much to say and too little control over when she says it.
Angus Third Pounder/Adam Kuban/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Why Are Most of Us So Good at Deceiving Ourselves?

By Barb Cohen on October 08, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
Columbus, cognitive dissonance and autism shed light on our coping strategies.

5 Tips on Getting Your Aspie/Autie Husband to Talk More

By Eva A. Mendes LMHC on October 04, 2017 in The Heart of Autism
Especially after marriage, a husband with Asperger's Syndrome might relax and be more himself. He will behave more like he does when he’s alone, which can mean being silent.

Sex and Age Implicated in Autism-Related Diagnoses

Recent research reveals how sex and age are linked to other disorders which tend to co-occur with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Can Vaccinations Cause Autism in Dogs?

By Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC on September 26, 2017 in Canine Corner
People who choose not to vaccinate their dogs for rabies don't recognize the risk that they are exposing their pets to.

Let's Eliminate Physical Restraints in Group Homes

By Robert T Muller Ph.D. on September 06, 2017 in Talking About Trauma
Physical restraints place children and youth at serious risk.

All Autistic Behavior is Not Communication

By Amy S.F. Lutz on September 05, 2017 in Inspectrum
Parents and providers need to recognize when aggression and/or self-injury is driven by biological factors that can be medically treated.

Neurodiversity and Autism in College

Another way to look at autism, neurodiversity, and how we face diversity as a society and as individuals.

Voices: Overheard in Psychosis But Underheard in Autism

As predicted by the diametric model, auditory symptoms in psychosis are opposite to those in autism, and both are extensions of normality.

Six Ways to Be More Supportive to Those Closest to You

When the people you care about the most are in need of support, are you ready to be there for them? Based on new research, these 6 tips will help you help them.

What Causes What?

By Paul Thagard Ph.D. on August 24, 2017 in Hot Thought
Deciding whether something causes a spike in disease or a pattern like global warming requires careful inferences.

Male Risk of Autism: No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Stigmatizing autism research as "sexist" for finding a gender difference in risk is not going to help us discover the truth about it.

John Elder Robison’s “Switched On”

By Eileen Garvin on August 13, 2017 in Sister on the Edge of Autism
This latest book recounts Robison's participation in an early transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) study that hoped would help people with ASD better read emotions in others.

To Say "I" Means To Be Alone

By Elena Bezzubova on August 12, 2017 in The Search for Self
Loneliness seems a transient step to self identity that could include depersonalization-like feelings of detachment and autism/introversion-like feelings of isolation.

Why Advertising Falls Flat in Individuals With Autism

Individuals with autism may be impervious to misleading marketing. Mental differences are often considered weaknesses, but autism may not be entirely a disability.
Arren Aljfe/ Flickr

MRI Scans are Transforming Autism Detection and Treatment

By Barry Southers, M.Ed. on August 09, 2017 in A Clearer Image of the Brain
What are the benefits of earlier autism detection? It can allow the most appropriate treatment to be delivered at a time when a child could benefit the most.

An Answer To Your ASD Teen's Tantrums.

By Ugo Uche on July 31, 2017 in Promoting Empathy With Your Teen
"A meltdown can last in the upwards of fifteen minutes plus, and there is very little a parent can do to console their child. The promise of consequences doesn’t work".

Gulliver’s Travels: Another Classic Portrayal of Autism

Gulliver’s Travels can be read as an autistic’s satire on a society into which he does not fit: neither physically nor mentally.
"Signage 55 speed limit"/David Lofink/CC BY 2.0

Can We Teach the Rules for Breaking the Rules?

By Barb Cohen on July 27, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
If I take a box of pens from a store without paying, I commit shoplifting. But suppose I take a box of pens from the office where I work. Will my coworkers judge me a thief?

The New Science of Using Eye Movements as a Test for Autism

Neuroscientists have identified a radical new way to test for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by monitoring rapid eye movements.

Why Your ASD Teen Gets Bullied

By Ugo Uche on July 13, 2017 in Promoting Empathy With Your Teen
The ASD Teen, struggles with picking up on nonverbal cues, this is problematic in social situations especially with young people.

Matter- but Not Mind-blind—and Vice Versa

A pioneering study shows mentalism to vary inversely with mechanistic cognition as predicted by the diametric model.

The Question of Contact

By David Kyle Johnson Ph.D. on July 10, 2017 in Plato on Pop
Can personal experience ever be used to justifiably override scientific evidence or argument?

The ABC of the Diametric Model, Twenty Years On

Twenty years after it was first published, the diametric model can be seen as a striking co-discovery like so many others in the history of science.