Autism is the name given to a "spectrum" of disorders, which means that each condition differs in some aspects but shares some similarities. These conditions can affect how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates and learns. The hallmark of autism is impaired social interaction. Symptoms of autism may appear by 12 months of age, are more common in boys and may affect a person throughout his or her life.

Common Forms of Autism

Classic autism involves impaired communication, difficulty with social interactions and repetitive behaviors. Children with autism are sometimes described as "in their own world." They may not make eye contact when communicating, may have difficulty talking with a person or may use words repetitively to calm themselves. They may also spend time with repetitive movements or putting objects in order. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies and medicines to control symptoms. Starting treatment as early as possible is important.

Asperger’s syndrome has some symptoms similar to classic autism, but typically in milder forms. Symptoms usually appear by age 3. A child with Asperger’s syndrome may fixate on a single object or subject, wanting to know all about it and willing to discuss little else. While the child’s vocabulary may be large, speech patterns may be very formal.

Other symptoms include:

  • Trouble reading social cues and recognizing other people's feelings
  • Having strange movements or mannerisms
  • Problems with motor skills
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Having rituals
  • Being sensitive to certain lights, sounds, textures or tastes

The cause of Asperger’s syndrome is not known.  Treatment may include medication and therapy. Treatments focus on improving communication skills, reducing obsessive or repetitive routines and improving physical agility.

Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) refers to a group of disorders characterized by delays in the development of socialization and communication skills. Symptoms, which typically appear around age 3, may include language problems, difficulty relating to people, unusual play patterns, difficulty with changes in surroundings or routines and repetitive behaviors. Although there is no cure for PDD, medication and therapy specialized to the child’s condition can be beneficial.

Child and adolescent outpatient programs at OSU Harding Hospital can provide diagnostic and treatment support related to autism. 

Specialized primary care services for teens and adults who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders are available at the Center for Autism Services and Transition (CAST), located at OSU Internal Medicine & Pediatrics – Hilliard. This primary care program of Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center is unique in central Ohio and rare nationwide.

Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.