Autism, a severe developmental disability that impairs children’s ability to communicate and relate to others, is another childhood disorder that usually appears in the first three years and typically continues throughout life. Children with autism have difficulties in both verbal and nonverbal communication, and they may avoid social contact. About one in 150 children are now thought to have the disorder.

Autism is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) that affects a person’s ability to communicate, form normal social relationships and respond appropriately to the external world. Autism typically appears in the first three years of life, although there may be signs in infancy such as avoiding eye contact and abruptly stopping language development. Children with autism may stare into space for hours, throw uncontrollable tantrums and show no interest in people including their parents. They may pursue strange, repetitive activities with no apparent purpose. Some people with autism can function at a relatively high level, with speech and intelligence intact. Others, however, have serious learning problems and language delays, and some never speak.

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