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What is Autism?

By: Elizabeth Felder, MD

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding behavioral therapy or counseling, please contact Connections to make an appointment.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex disorder of brain development. People with autism have difficulty with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and unusual behaviors. It affects individuals differently and to varying degrees, from mild to severe. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, poor motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal (stomach) problems. There is usually nothing about the appearance of a person with autism that sets them apart from other people. However, they may communicate, interact, behave and learn differently than others. Some individuals with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means. Many have average or above average intelligence. Some individuals with ASD have special talents in visual skills, music, math and art.


Over the last five to 10  years, scientists have identified a number of rare genetic changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these can cause autism by themselves; however, most cases of autism appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors.


  • Advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad)
  • Maternal illness during pregnancy
  • Difficulties during birth
  • Medications taken during pregnancy
  • Older sibling with autism

This combination of genes and risk factors affects early brain development, which happens at 8 – 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is important to keep in mind that these environmental factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. It is the combination with genetic risk factors that appears to modestly increase the risk that a baby will develop autism.


A child with autism might:

  • Not respond when his or her name is called.
  • Not realize they need to answer you.
  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Have trouble adapting to changes in routine.
  • Repeat words or actions over and over again.
  • Not switch to a different activity very easily.
  • Want to be alone.
  • Have temper tantrums.
  • Be sensitive to touch or loud noise.
  • Enjoy arranging things in a certain pattern.
  • Need to have a favorite item with them always.
  • Not like being in crowded places.

While autism is a life-long condition, all children and adults who are affected benefit from interventions or therapies that can reduce symptoms and increase skills and abilities. Although it is best to begin intervention as soon as possible, the benefits of therapy can help many individuals with autism lead productive lives.


Elizabeth Felder, MD, is a pediatrician at Connections with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of pediatrics. Dr. Felder provides evaluation and treatment of patients with autism, ADHD and related disorders in children and adolescents. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Mississippi State Medical Association. To make an appointment with Dr. Felder, please call 601-261-5159.

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding behavioral therapy or counseling, please contact Connections to make an appointment.