Autism is a lifelong disorder that interferes with the ability to understand what is seen, heard, and touched. This can cause profound problems in personal behavior and in the ability to relate to others. A person with autism must learn how to communicate normally and how to relate to people, objects and events. However, not all patients suffer the same degree of impairment. There is a full spectrum of symptoms, which can range from mild to severe.
Autism occurs in as many as one or two per 1,000 children. It is found four times more often in boys (usually the first-born) and occurs around the world in all races and social backgrounds. Autism usually is evident in the first three years of life, although in some children it's hard to tell when the problem develops. Sometimes the condition isn't diagnosed until the child enters school.
While a person with autism can have symptoms ranging from mild to severe, about 10% have an extraordinary ability in one area, such as in mathematics, memory, music, or art. Such children are known as "autistic savants" (formerly known as "idiot savants.").
Carol A. Turkington, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,