What Is Autism?

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The past decade has seen remarkable advances in science, technology and medicine. It has enabled us to diagnose better and find illnesses. Many parents who have wondered, “What is Autism?” have gotten their answer.

For far too many, those answers have been learned the hard way. Diagnoses of autism are rising, with some estimates holding that an average of one out of every 110 children born in the United States are autistic. This is a large number and has necessitated the need for parents to find appropriate treatment and help for their autistic children.

Thankfully for everyone who has ever wondered about Autism, an array of scientific research has been conducted that has given us the ability to answer these critical questions: What is Autism? What causes Autism? And how can I get help for a loved one who is autistic?

Defining Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder. It is permanent and usually appears in children from a young age. Some symptoms will surface when a child is a baby or toddler. Some forms of autism may not become fully apparent until someone’s teenage years.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Autism?

Autism consists of a basket of symptoms. These symptoms may vary, but they often show similarities. They include:

1. Cognitive Signs of Autism

People will often think about the cognitive impacts that autism has. The cognitive symptoms are significant. In some cases, an individual may show an affinity for a specific area of interest. This may be academic or recreational-oriented. This interest can become very fixed and obsessive. Therapy is often necessary to help an autistic individual develop other areas of interest.

However, individuals with autism will often show cognitive deficits, such as trouble solving basic problems.

2. Emotional Signs of Autism

Emotional symptoms are very present for individuals with autism. People with Autism often show flattened emotional affect, meaning they will have trouble expressing emotion. They may also have a difficult time controlling their emotions. Depending on the form of autism that they suffer from, they may be prone to aggression or self-injurious behavior.

3. Social Signs of Autism

The social signs of autism are particularly prominent. People with autism often have a difficult time understanding or expressing empathy. They become highly fixated on certain patterns, including patterns of social interactions. They will struggle to form relationships with other people. They also often avoid eye contact.

People with autism will often struggle with new experiences. They may experience significant anxiety if things that they are used to change. This resistance to change can often lead to difficulties when it comes to holding a job or building relationships.

4. Physical Signs of Autism

Some forms of autism demonstrate certain physical symptoms. This may include repeated movements, particularly with hands. Some types of autism often involve hand flapping, grasping or sudden and abrupt movements. Additional symptoms may include a loss of coordination or struggles walking. 


Autism is known as an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism symptoms are not uniform and may present themselves differently. 

1. High-Functioning

“High-functioning” refers to a person with autism who can still function in society. This means that they will be able to form relationships, hold down jobs and live independently. In some cases, others may not even know that they have autism.

2. Low-Functioning

On the other side is “low-functioning.” This means that a person shows significant impairment across a variety of areas. This may include physical, emotional and cognitive handicaps. In more extreme cases, someone who is low functioning may struggle with activities of daily life. As such, they will not be able to live on their own. Individuals who are low functioning may need a lifetime of care. They may also have to live in some sort of institutional or cognitive setting. 

What Are the Different Types of Autism?

Autism is not a “one-size-fits-all” disorder, and there are five different types of disorders. They have different symptoms, causes and prognoses. They include:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome: People with Asperger’s Syndrome will show difficulty in social settings. They will likely struggle to pick up on social cues. This may make forming relationships and showing empathy difficult. It is sometimes accompanied by academic and business success. 
  • Kanner’s Syndrome: This is also known as “low-functioning autism.” It involves the classic symptoms of autism. This includes uncontrolled speech, difficulty communicating and intellectual difficulties. 
  • Rett Syndrome: Rett Syndrome is a form of autism that is almost exclusively found in girls. It usually becomes visible in girls between six and 18 months. It is marked by a variety of physical symptoms, including a loss of coordination and difficulty controlling hand movements. Additionally, women with Rett’s Syndrome will experience significant physical, emotional and social handicaps. 
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: This is a troublesome form of autism. At the age of three to four, a child will abruptly show marked regression. This will occur across a variety of competencies, including physical, social and emotional. A child who suffers from CDD will lose the ability to function. They may also struggle to speak and form relationships. 
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder: This is the closest thing to an “other” diagnosis that exists within the autism world. It is used to describe forms of autism that do not fit neatly into the above categories.

What Causes Autism?

Asking, “What is Autism?” can start a conversation about autism, but more information is needed.

Autism is believed to be a largely genetic disorder. Many studies have found specific genetic mutations tied to an autism diagnosis. Other risk factors are associated with the development of autism in a child, however, including young parents, multiple births, and pregnancies that occur within a year of each other. Fortunately, research has found that parents can do certain things to reduce the risk of an autistic child, including taking prenatal vitamins. 

It is important to note that vaccines do not cause autism. This claim—first made in the 1990s—has been completely debunked. Furthermore, there is no “one cause” of autism. Instead, a series of items are believed to cause autism. More research is needed to determine the causes further. 

How Can Autism Be Treated?

There is no “cure” to autism. Instead, treatment requires individuals to undergo a series of comprehensive therapies designed to manage symptoms of autism. When treated correctly, individuals with autism can show major improvements across various metrics. They can help them to lead happier, healthier and more productive lives.

It is essential that a child with autism receives therapy as early as possible. Early intervention is much more impactful. It can help teach a child skills that they can use all of their lives. 

1. Physical Treatments

Some types of autism—such as Asperger’s—require no physical treatment. Other types of autism, such as Rett’s Syndrome, may require extensive physical care. This treatment exists in many forms. Some may need physical therapy. Done correctly, this can help to improve coordination and movement. It can also reduce clumsiness.

Girls with Rett’s Syndrome will often need specific occupational therapy. This therapy is designed to help them overcome issues that occur with their hands. 

2. Social Therapy

Social deficits are among the more common challenges of autism. With proper help, many of these deficits can be overcome. This help can occur in many forms. It usually involves the teaching of specific skills. This includes how to hold eye contact, ask questions, and respond to questions. Learning these basic conversational building blocks can help an autistic person understand others, which can teach empathy. It can help an autistic person better understand someone else’s perspective. 

Social therapy can also teach an autistic child resilience. It can help them learn how to manage being teased or bullied. It can also help them learn how to play games and how to be a “good sport” in those games.

3. Emotional Therapy

Individuals with autism may struggle with experiencing and expressing emotions. These challenges may exist on many levels. They may experience intense emotions but not know how to manage them. Those emotions may then express themselves in inappropriate ways. People with autism may suffer from emotional outbursts. They may also experience challenges when it comes to expressing their emotions. In some cases, the pain that comes from emotions can be turned inward. Individuals with autism often experience self-injury. This can be dangerous.

Autistic individuals can experience real benefits from a variety of therapies, such as behavioral management therapy. This is done with reinforcement for positive behaviors and redirection for negative ones. There is also cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of therapy focuses on the connections that exist between a person’s thinking and behaviors. Working with their therapist, an autistic person will seek to better understand their thinking. This will then change how they feel and how they behave. It can help an autistic person better understand their minds and learn emotional regulation. This can also be helpful when it comes to managing unpleasant feelings, like depression, anxiety, or fear.

You will need an autism diagnosis before you can get treatment services. There are many methods of receiving such treatment. Zinnia Health may be able to help you and your family. We have facilities throughout the United States that may be able to suit your needs. Our values require that we do everything we can to help you and your family. 

How Can Autism Be Diagnosed? 

Unlike other diseases, there is no set method of diagnosing autism. Thus, answering “What is autism?” is often a tricky proposition. There is no blood test or other simple diagnostic test. Instead, autism is diagnosed via developmental monitoring and screening. Furthermore, a variety of different tools have been created to identify what is autism. One such example is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. This test must be given by a trained clinician and involves assessments across an array of areas.

With appropriate screening, autism can be diagnosed when a child is as young as 18 months old. This means that observation and awareness from parents and caregivers are key. The signs are often relevant in a child’s desire to be cuddled or touched. If a child is reluctant to engage in either of these age-appropriate activities, family members may need to get additional testing before attempting to determine, “What is autism?” on their own. 

Zinnia Health is pleased to announce that we offer the ADOS tool. This diagnostic tool is utilized by our certified clinicians. A formal autism diagnosis is critical for someone who suffers from autism. Insurance agencies and governments will require such a diagnosis to be able to provide treatment and rehabilitation. As such, you must get your loved one an autism diagnosis as soon as possible.

At Zinnia Health, we’re here to help answer your questions, including “What is autism?” and “How can it be treated?” We have years of research in providing a wide array of physical and behavioral health care. If you have questions about autism, including what is autism or how it can be treated, we’re here to help. Contact us today and let Zinnia Health help you and your loved one.