noun au·tism \ˈȯ-ˌti-zəm\

Definition of autism

  1. :  a variable developmental disorder that appears by age three and is characterized by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others, and by repetitive behavior patterns —called also autistic disorder — see autism spectrum disorder

Did You Know?

Autism, in its strict sense, becomes evident before the age of 3. The autistic child generally refuses to talk, becomes obsessive about toys, resists any change vehemently, and sometimes flies into unexplained rages. Autism is believed to be biological in origin, and seems to be related to several milder conditions such as Asperger's syndrome. As many as 1 in 100 children, mostly boys, may have autism, Asperger's, or a related condition. About one in ten autistic children turns out to have a remarkable mental gift, such as the ability to play a difficult piece on the piano after a single hearing or repair a complex machine without any training. Many autistic children seem to grow out of it as they become adults, and some autistic adults manage to live independently. Autistic is sometimes used loosely to describe a much more common kind of psychological withdrawal in adults.

Origin and Etymology of autism

see aut-

First Known Use: 1946

Medical Dictionary


noun au·tism \ˈȯ-ˌtiz-əm\

Medical Definition of autism

  1. :  a developmental disorder that appears by age three and that is variable in expression but is recognized and diagnosed by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others, and by stereotyped behavior patterns especially as exhibited by a preoccupation with repetitive activities of restricted focus rather than with flexible and imaginative ones But more than 60 years after it was first identified, autism remains mystifying and stubbornly difficult to treat. About the only thing parents, doctors and policy makers agree on is that the best chance for autistic children to develop social and language skills is to enroll them in some type of intensive behavioral therapy.—Benedict Carey, The New York Times, 27 Dec. 2004 Although the chief diagnostic signs of autism are social isolation, lack of eye contact, poor language capacity and absence of empathy, other less well known symptoms are commonly evident. Many people with autism have problems understanding metaphors, sometimes interpreting them literally. They also have difficulty miming other people's actions.—Vilayanur S. Ramachandran et al., Scientific American, November 2006 In approximately 10% of patients, autism can be explained by genetic syndromes and known chromosomal anomalies …—Lauren A Weiss et al., The New England Journal of Medicine, 14 Feb. 2008—called also autistic disorder; see autism spectrum disorder

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