Autism is a complex developmental disorder. The symptoms of autism typically appear in the first three years of life. It is a neurological disorder that impacts the development of language and communication skills as well as social interaction and relatedness. In addition, individuals with autism may demonstrate repetitive stereotyped behaviors, unusual responses to sensory stimulation, restricted interests and a resistance to change.

Recent research has revealed that symptoms of autism may be present as early as 6-12 months of age. The earliest symptoms include a pronounced lack of social orienting, failure to respond to name, and lack of a social smile. By the second year of development, there may be limited eye contact, odd or unusual repetitive use of objects or toys, delayed or absent speech development as well as a preference to play alone.

Autism affects boys 4-5 times more frequently than girls. There is no known cause of autism. It is believed to have a strong genetic component. In a family with one autistic child, the chance of having another child with autism is about 1 in 20, much higher than in the normal population.

The symptoms of autism vary widely across individuals. This may be due to issues such as level of cognitive functioning or the presence of other co-morbid conditions (e.g., anxiety, OCD, Tourette’s). It is currently believed that approximately 50 % of individuals with autism may also have mental retardation. This number ranges from 20 to 80 %, depending upon the source.