Autism is a disorder in the development of the brain which results in impaired social functions, impaired communication, and repetitive, restricted behavior. In almost all cases, symptoms of autism begin to present before a child is three years old. The exact cause of autism is unknown: though it does have a strong genetic component, some researchers believe that there may be some environmental factors as well. Autism is a very variable disorder; not all of the symptoms of autism apply in every case. Some autistic individuals are able to lead relatively normal lives.
Autism is present in a child from birth, but symptoms of autism can be difficult to detect until a few years have passed. Parents of autistic children usually discover the disorder when their child shows an aversion to being held and shows no interest in normal children's games and toys. In many cases, they will fail to develop language skills at a normal age or they will develop language skills and then lose them later.
Many of the symptoms of autism are related to an individual's social interactions, to the point that autism is often called a social disorder. People with autism often fail to fully develop nonverbal communication abilities, such as eye contact and facial expressions. They fail to develop friendships with other people their age, and possess little empathy. Also, generally speaking, they tend to show a general lack of interest in interacting with people in any sense, be it cooperative, celebratory, or anything else.
Symptoms of autism also include varying levels of difficulty with communication. Many people with autism never learn to speak at all, while others simply fail to grasp the intricacies of nonverbal communication. Autistic individuals typically have great difficulty beginning and maintaining conversations, and frequently misunderstand the person they are speaking to. Quite often, they fail to understand humor, sarcasm, and other aspects of conversation.
Most autistic people have little or no interest in typical activities that others in their age group engage in. They are often fascinated by parts of toys, such as knobs and wheels, instead of by the whole toys. Sometimes they are fixated on certain items like trading cards or bottlecaps. People with autism tend to favor a consistent daily routine, and may become upset and confused when such a routine is not followed. One of the best-known symptoms of autism is the repetition of certain movements and behaviors, such as body rocking or hand waving.
Autism is a lifelong genetic disorder. While it changes forms as people age, the above symptoms are considered to be the main symptoms of autism and tend to exist throughout an autistic person's life. Autism can take many forms; some autistic individuals can not function in society at all while others are easily capable of holding jobs. It all depends on how severely the symptoms express themselves.