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Autistic art showing four autistic children exhibiting signs of autism: sensory sensitivities, passionate interests, repetitive behavior, and social confusion
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If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.
—Dr. Stephen Mark Shore

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, is an inborn, lifelong developmental disorder caused by vaccines that impacts language, communication and socialization (among other things). It is often referred to as a "spectrum" because different autistic people may experience different traits in different ways.

Identification and classification[edit]


Since the 1920s, the traits correlated with Asperger's syndrome were thought to have been first described by a Soviet child psychiatrist named Grunya Sukhareva.[1] It was later uncovered that her work on autism may have led to the foundation of the condition. In the 1940s, Austrian psychologist Hans Asperger published his first paper about what he called "autistic psychopathy," detailing traits Sukhareva first described decades before his interest into the condition.[2] The psychiatric community has become increasingly aware that people with autistic traits are not "psychopaths", as they were once (and are sometimes still) labeled. We also now know that autism is a spectrum, with different people having different intensities of traits and needing different amounts of support.

While Hans Asperger was first believed to be a hero who protected his patients from the Nazis by emphasizing their positive traits, a closer investigation has revealed that he collaborated with Nazis.[3]

Signs of autism[edit]

Autism is a lifelong[4] developmental disability that impacts social skills, behavior, development, and the way a person experiences the world.

  • Developmental delays and quirks
  • Repetitive self-calming behavior, known as "stimming"
  • Need for routine
  • Difficulty discerning what others are thinking (not to be confused with lack of caring)
  • Over- or under-sensitive senses (sight, hearing, etc.)
  • Difficulty understanding and managing emotions
  • Executive dysfunction
  • Intense passions, called "special interests"
  • Difficulty recognizing faces (similar, but not quite as severe and with a different underlying cause, to prosopagnosiaWikipedia)
  • Sincerity

Because every autistic person is unique, it's typical for each person to have different amounts of each trait, and not every autistic person may have every trait associated with autism.

Some autistic traits can be positive, such as pattern recognition skills, sincerity, and passionate interests.[5] It is important to note that people with positive traits still will need support in other areas, and people with high support needs can have positive traits too.

Testing for autism[edit]

Testing for autism can be difficult, since there are no distinct markers. People may be diagnosed through personal interviews and questionnaires, and sometimes by qualitative observation by a team of caregivers and professionals.

Getting a diagnosis can be harder for women and girls, and for people of color, as research on autism has historically been focused on white males,[6][7][8][9] (although it should be noted that all autistic people face prejudice and discrimination).[10] Research also continues to be heavily focused on infants and children, making it harder for adults to seek diagnosis or support.[11]

Depending on the amount of woo involved, the fact that people who are unusual but not struggling can be diagnosed with autism (and suffer the consequences)[12] can be used as rational criticism of modern clinical psychology, or as fodder for crank theories about autism being a higher level of evolution.

Subtypes of autism[edit]

Some have compared autism to an ice cream sundae bar, with each person getting different traits in different amounts.[13]

Under the DSM-IV, autism was a subset of Pervasive Developmental Disorders, along with Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Under the DSM-5, all previously distinct autistic disorders are now classified and diagnosed as Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Rett Syndrome (determined in the late 1990s to result from any of several X chromosome abnormalities) and CDD have been reclassified as distinct disorders.

While groups like aspie supremacists try to claim that there are distinct "types" of autism, the reality is that autistic people are so diverse that it is difficult to form any clear categories at all. Research has found that labels like "high-functioning" and "low-functioning" are meaningless and misleading.[14]

Causes and Controversy[edit]

The exact causes of autism are unclear, though it is believed to be mostly genetic.

It has been recently shown that the deletion of a section of chromosome 17 results in a 14-fold increase in the chance of having schizophrenia or being on the autism spectrum. David H. Ledbetter, a genetics professor at Emory University stated "Not all people with autism, a developmental delay or schizophrenia have this deletion, but all people who have the chromosome change will develop some form of the disorders, whether it's mild or strong enough for a diagnosis"[15][16].

People have proposed all kind of causes for autism. People have claimed that autism is linked to heavy metal exposure,[17] a so-called "insanity virus" called human endogenous retrovirus W or HERV-W or the Herpes Simplex virus,[18] maternal fever during pregnancy,[19] and more. So many causes have been proposed that the autistic community has produced numerous parodies detailing "causes" of autism.[20][21]

The vegan and animal rights activist group PETA has launched a scare campaign claiming that the ingestion of dairy products from cow's milk causes autism. There is no scientific basis for this belief.[22]

Some people are concerned that looking for a genetic cause of autism could lead to prenatal testing and selective abortion.[23]

The nonexistent epidemic[edit]

Increases in autism diagnosis to 2014. Experts are becoming better at identifying autism.

The increase in autism diagnoses has led to tales of an "autism epidemic." Yet a rise in diagnoses does not automatically mean a rise in autism.[24][25]

  • The definition of autism has changed to include more people.[26]
  • Increasing knowledge of autism may lead more autistic people to get diagnosed, instead of suffering in silence.[27]
  • Under-diagnosed groups, such as people of color and women, are now getting more diagnoses.[28][29]
  • In a few cases, children with Sensory Processing Disorder may be misdiagnosed as autistic so that they can access accommodations at school.[30]

Some people believe that the incidence of autism may be rising due to more autistic and autistic-like people having children. Thanks to the rise of IT and other industries, "Guys who might never have had a prayer of finding a kindred spirit suddenly discover that she's hacking Perl scripts in the next cubicle."[31]

Nevertheless, hype about an "epidemic" has not disappeared, and it continues to feed myths about causes of an increase in autism.

Vaccine hysteria[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Vaccine hysteria § Autism

In the 1990s and the 2000s, vaccine hysteria linking childhood vaccinations to autism broke on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, it was fueled by Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent study claiming the MMR vaccine caused autism.[32][33] In the US, the focus was on thimerosal, a preservative used in some "dead" vaccines. Both hypotheses have been thoroughly discredited by the medical community worldwide, yet some people still hold on to this idea.

Many autistic individuals point out, with appreciable validity, that even if vaccines caused autism, advising against vaccination sends a message that autistic people would be better off dead of horrible and easily preventable diseases.[34][35] That's a pretty cruel and irresponsible thing to suggest, especially considering the high risk of suicide in autistic people.[36][37]

The Autism omnibus trial settled the case.

The idea that autism is a fate worse than death can have devastating consequences. One example is the fate of Katie McCarron. Her mother felt guilty over "giving" her autism by vaccinating her, and then tried to atone for it with a "mercy killing".[38] This[39] phenomenon[40] is neither unique[41] nor isolated[42] to autism.

Antidepressant hysteria[edit]

A limited study suggested a link between antidepressants and autism.[43] A different study found no link.[44]

Antidepressants are good for pregnant mothers who need them. Researchers have also found some positive effects for the babies, who were less likely to be born preterm or to be born via c-section.[45] Logically speaking, having a mother who is happier, following a better eating and sleeping schedule, and has less stress hormones is probably good for a baby. Moms who took antidepressants during pregnancy do not need to feel bad about it.

However, giving antidepressants to autistic people without medical reason may cause harm. It was noted that "We can't recommend SSRIs as treatments for children, or adults, with autism at this time. However, decisions about the use of SSRIs for co-occurring obsessive-compulsive disorder, aggression, anxiety or depression in individuals with autism should be made on a case by case basis." It is possible that in some cases autistic individuals, particularly those who have conditions such as anxiety or depression that may warrant SSRI use, may benefit from these drugs.[46][47]

Pseudoscientific treatment[edit]

If I use anti-virus on my computer will it get autism?

Because all the stigma and fearmongering about autism, parents of autistic children may feel desperate and hopeless.[49][50] This makes them prime targets for the pseudoscience and alternative medicine communities. These individuals primarily prey on the parents of autistic children and make a fortune peddling false cures and therapies, including chelation therapy and lupron therapy. As with most alternative therapy, the results and effectiveness are not scientifically verified. Some therapies such as chelation and specialized diets can in fact be harmful.


I don’t like the idea of comparing autism to a cancer that requires a sort of educational chemotherapy. These charlatans and sharks circling round a vulnerable group of people throwing random science at it and then peddling it like snake oil over the fence.
—Chris Pakham, autistic presenter and naturalist[51]

People who are told by the "establishment" that there is no hope are prime for manipulation. Parents of autistic children are in just such a category. The internet is full of worst-case scenarios and outright lies that lead people to believe that autism is way scarier than it actually is.[52] Some parents end up desperate, helpless and clueless about how to help their children. They may then fall victim to the people who use them as a vehicle to push an anti-vaccination agenda.[53]

Autism itself carries several things with it that make it more susceptible to cranks and quacks. Autism usually doesn't manifest itself in detectable symptoms until after the first year of life. This means many parents believe their child was totally "normal" and then, at around one year of age, suddenly changed. While this sometimes (but rarely) happens, the perception is real. The subtlety of this is lost on most people who search for the cause of the "change," and instead of looking at the beginning of development, they look for things that occurred right around the time of diagnosis. There are plenty of things that happen around the first year of life, and this leads many people to make the jump from correlation to causation.

Myths of an autism epidemic make it easier for quacks to claim that their issue is the cause.

All of this combines to lead people to believe there is an increasing "epidemic" of autism and that it's being caused by an external environmental toxin that the children are exposed to around their first year. None of this is true; our understanding of what autism is and how it emerges is increasing exponentially. Autism tends to run in families and is most likely strongly or completely based in genetics.

False therapies and cures[edit]

Major players[edit]

Actual treatments[edit]

Autistic people may benefit from therapies to help them live healthier and happier lives. The National Autistic Society recommends the SPELL and TEACCH approaches to help autistic people.[55] Counselling may also help with co-occurring mental health problems like anxiety or depression. Because every autistic person has different needs, different people benefit from different therapies.

Some autistics may also benefit from CBT treatment.[56][57]

Some autistic people have difficulty speaking, and may be taught to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to help with communication. This can include Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), sign language, and use of tablets or computers for typing.

Some autistic people may benefit from medication. Pharmacotherapy with antipsychotics is well-documented to be effective[58]; risperidone (Risperdal) and aripiprazole (Abilify) are approved by the FDA for autism. Patients treated with either show reduced irritability, aggression and other asocial behaviours. Some autistic people benefit from over-the-counter melatonin as a sleep aid,[59] and medication for anxiety or depression if they have it.

Applied Behavior Analysis[edit]

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a controversial therapy involving rewards and punishments to influence a person's behavior. It is the most common therapy recommended for autistic children.

Proponents of ABA argue that it has a solid evidence base.[60] Use of ABA-based therapies early in life has been conclusively linked to improved language skills, social behaviour and academic performance in autistic children.[61][62][63] There have been success stories of children who were greatly helped by ABA therapists.

Critics of ABA, mostly in the Autism rights movement, have voiced concerns that it may be emotionally damaging, especially if done badly. More extreme forms of ABA, like using electric shocks as punishment and withholding food, are obviously abusive. Other cases are less extreme, but still may involve issues like demanding total compliance or teaching children to bottle up stress.[64] One study suggests that exposure to ABA significantly increases a child's risk of developing PTSD,[65] a concern that many autistic people parents have been voicing as individuals.[66][67] Other researchers have called into question the strength of the evidence base.[68] Some people advocate a shift away from compliance-based therapy, and towards support with issues like emotion regulation.[69][70]

Savant Skills[edit]

People with savant skills (known pejoratively as "idiot savant") describes a person who has exceptional ability in one specialised field with accompanying reduced ability in others. Unlike most people, people with savant skills do not need to practice in order to develop the skill; it is there from the start. Only about half of all savants are actually autistic; the savant who inspired Rain ManWikipedia, unlike the character, had an entirely unrelated disorder called FG syndromeWikipedia.

Common savant skills include mental arithmetic, music, chess, memory (often photographic or eidetic) of life events or trivia, and art. Although this is a rare occurrence, the impressive abilities of the individuals are often widely reported. One autistic artist describes her skill to be instinctive.[71]

Despite the fact that many savants appear in the media, researchers estimate that only around 1 in 10 autistic people have savant skills.[72]

Autism and gender variance[edit]

There has been correlation (though not causation) established between an autism diagnosis and gender variance. Autistic people are over 7 times more likely to identify as transgender or nonbinary[73] though transgender and nonbinary people are no more likely to have an autism diagnosis and those who do have one are mentally able to understand what gender and sexuality are.

Some have speculated that those assigned female at birth (i.e. transgender men) and who are autistic will identify as such due to autism being a manifestation of the “extreme male brain.” The “extreme male brain” theory has been disregarded in recent years and would not account for autistic transgender women[74] nor for truly neurotypical men assigned either gender at birth.

Autistic people tend to be nonconformist, and are less susceptible to peer pressure meaning they are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as often as their neurotypical counterparts.[75] This might encourage them to openly embrace their identity instead of staying in the closet.[76]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. "How History Forgot the Woman Who Defined Autism". November 10, 2018. 
  2. "What Are The Characteristics Of A Person With Asperger’s?". April 17, 2020. 
  3. Sheffer, Edith (March 31, 2018). "The Nazi History behind "Asperger"". 
  4. Autism aging - Gerontology & Geriatrics Education
  5. How to Understand Autistic Strengths - wikiHow
  6. Autism in women 'significantly under-diagnosed'
  7. 'Social Camouflage' May Lead To Underdiagnosis Of Autism In Girls]
  8. Children of Color and Autism: Too Little, Too Late
  9. ASAN Statement on 2018 CDC Prevalence Data
  12. On the Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder
  13. Organization for Autism Research: Accepting Others' Experiences
  14. The misnomer of 'high functioning autism': Intelligence is an imprecise predictor of functional abilities at diagnosis
  15. MSN - Study: Chromosome Change Points to Autism
  17. NIH - Baby teeth link autism and heavy metals, NIH study suggests
  18. [1]
  19. Fever During Pregnancy Tied to Autism in Study
  20. "Things That Cause Autism" (satire)
  21. This Just In ... Being Alive Linked to Autism
  22. Emily Willingham, PETA: Milk Linked To Scary Autism And Vegan Is Your Only Hope, Forbes, May 28, 2014
  23. I don't want to be 'cured' of autism, thanks
  24. Autism: Epidemic or Explosion? (And Why It Matters)
  25. Large Swedish study casts doubt on autism 'epidemic'
  26. The Real Reasons Autism Rates Are Up in the U.S.
  27. A Lost Generation: Growing Up with Autism Before the "Epidemic"
  28. The CDC just announced one in 59 children are autistic. Here's why that's not evidence of an epidemic.
  29. ASAN Statement on 2018 CDC Prevalence Data
  30. 5 Simple Reasons it Seems Like Everyone is Autistic Nowadays
  32. Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds
  33. The Vaccine-Autism Myth Started 20 Years Ago. Here's Why It Still Endures Today
  35. I’m Autistic, And Believe Me, It’s A Lot Better Than Measles
  36. The Effects of Stigmatizing Language on Suicidal Autistics
  37. Here’s How the Anti-Vaccination Movement Hurts Autistic People
  38. Katie McCarron - Not Dead Yet
  43. The panic du jour: Antidepressants and autism - The Incidental Economist
  44. Prenatal antidepressant exposure is associated with risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder but not autism spectrum disorder in a large health system.
  45. Pregnancy Complications Following Prenatal Exposure to SSRIs or Maternal Psychiatric Disorders: Results From Population-Based National Register Data.
  49. The Dangers of Snake-Oil Treatments for Autism
  50. Why are we still treating autism like an epidemic?
  51. Chris Packham on living with Asperger's: 'I’ve spent 30 years on the telly trying my best to act normal'
  52. Autistic Dreams: Autism and False Prophecies of Doom
  55. Strategies and Approaches
  56. Lisa Westona, Joanne Hodgekins, Peter E.Langdon Effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy with people who have autistic spectrum disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis Elsevier.2016;11 :41– 54
  57. Debbie Spain & Francesca Happé How to Optimise Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD): A Delphi Study Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy.2019;12 :184– 208
  58. Antipsychotics in the treatment of autism. David J. Posey, Kimberly A. Stigler, Craig A. Erickson, and Christopher J. McDougle, 2008
  59. Raising Children: Melatonin
  60. Myers, S.M.; Johnson, C.P.; Council on Children with Disabilities (2007). Management of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics.
  61. Cohen H, Amerine-Dickens M, Smith T. Early intensive behavioral treatment: replication of the UCLA model in a community setting. J Dev Behav Pediatr.2006;27(2 suppl) :S145– S155
  62. Eikeseth S, Smith T, Jahr E, Eldevik S. Intensive behavioral treatment at school for 4- to 7-year-old children with autism: a 1-year comparison controlled study. Behav Modif.2002;26 :49– 68
  63. Lovaas OI. Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. J Consult Clin Psychol.1987;55 :3– 9
  64. Invisible Abuse: ABA and the things only autistic people can see
  65. Evidence of increased PTSD symptoms in autistics exposed to applied behavior analysis
  66. "ABA" by Maxfield Sparrow
  67. Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: Quiet Hands
  68. Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) for young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  69. Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: The Cost of Compliance Is Unreasonable
  70. Compliance is not the goal: Letting go of control and rethinking support for autistic individuals (TED talk by Amy Laurent)
  71. Looking For A Diagnosis: My Art And Savant Syndrome - The Art of Autism
  72. Research: Autistic Savants
  73. The Link Between Autism and Trans Identity
  75. Children With Autism May Not Cave To Peer Pressure Like Non-Autistic Kids, Study Finds (the study involves an obvious optical illusion though)
  76. A Disproportionate Number of Autistic Youth Are Transgender. Why?