Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, nonverbal communication, and emotional regulation. These symptoms often lead to difficulties in peer and family relationships, and academic functioning.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four autism-related diagnoses -- autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder (not otherwise specified), and Asperger syndrome -- into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, sleep disorders, and mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.

Symptoms of autism can appear by age 2 or 3. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.