By Fredda Brown, Ph.D., Sima Gerber, Ph.D. and Christopher M. Oliva, Ph.D.
City University of New York - Queens College
Autism is a disability that affects the way children behave, learn and interact in everyday situations. Children with autism often have difficulties with communication and social interactions. They may seem uninterested in being part of typical activities or playing with other children. Very often, children with autism engage in repetitive activities and body movements, such as rocking, pacing, or repetitive hand movements.
Autism is called a "spectrum" disorder — meaning that there is a great range of characteristics that you may see. For example, some children may learn to speak, while others may not develop verbal language. While not all children with autism are alike, all children with autism are entitled to receive help and are able to benefit from it.
The number of children reported to have autism varies greatly. Not too long ago reports indicated that this disorder occurred in as many as 2-5 people out of every 10,000 people. However, in the last several years this estimate has dramatically increased. Some current reports indicate as many as 1 out of 150 children are somewhere on the autism spectrum. Autism is four times more common in boys than girls.
Although there have been many hypotheses suggested to explain this increase — from reactions to immunizations, to food allergies, to environmental toxins — no one knows for sure.