Send to

Choose Destination
Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2020 Jan 16;6(1):5. doi: 10.1038/s41572-019-0138-4.

Autism spectrum disorder.

Author information

Departments of Psychiatry and School of Education, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK.
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK.
Autistica, London, UK.
Institut Pasteur, UMR3571 CNRS, Université de Paris, Paris, France.
Autism Speaks, New York, NY, USA.
Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development, University of London, London, UK.
The Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, New York, NY, USA.
The Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, White Plains, NY, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute and Weill Institute for Neurosciences, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Department of Pediatrics and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.


Autism spectrum disorder is a construct used to describe individuals with a specific combination of impairments in social communication and repetitive behaviours, highly restricted interests and/or sensory behaviours beginning early in life. The worldwide prevalence of autism is just under 1%, but estimates are higher in high-income countries. Although gross brain pathology is not characteristic of autism, subtle anatomical and functional differences have been observed in post-mortem, neuroimaging and electrophysiological studies. Initially, it was hoped that accurate measurement of behavioural phenotypes would lead to specific genetic subtypes, but genetic findings have mainly applied to heterogeneous groups that are not specific to autism. Psychosocial interventions in children can improve specific behaviours, such as joint attention, language and social engagement, that may affect further development and could reduce symptom severity. However, further research is necessary to identify the long-term needs of people with autism, and treatments and the mechanisms behind them that could result in improved independence and quality of life over time. Families are often the major source of support for people with autism throughout much of life and need to be considered, along with the perspectives of autistic individuals, in both research and practice.


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Nature Publishing Group
Loading ...
Support Center