Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Autism is a developmental disability that can cause a complex range of behavioural symptoms and may be mild, moderate or severe.

Autism is a developmental disability that can cause a complex range of behavioural symptoms and may be mild, moderate or severe.
beginning of content


2-minute read

Autism is a developmental disability that can cause a complex range of behavioural symptoms and may be mild, moderate or severe. The main features of autism are difficulty in social interactions and communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests. Children or adults with autism may be highly intelligent, of normal intelligence or have learning difficulties.

Parents may notice that their child’s behaviour is unusual in the first few years of life. Early signs may include delayed speech, repetitive behaviours such as rocking or twirling, or spending hours focusing intently on one thing. Children with autism may lack interest in playing with other children, and in severe cases may show no interest in the surrounding world at all.

The umbrella term ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD) includes several different disorders, including: classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder.

About one in 200 Australians are affected by autism, and the large majority are boys at over 80% of cases. The symptoms may be noticeable from the age of two, but usually a firm diagnosis can’t be made until a child reaches the age of three. In some people the diagnosis comes much later.

The causes of autism are not fully understood, but research suggests that there are genetic factors involved.

People with autism can learn the skills needed to function independently or in a supportive environment. Research shows that the earlier a child is diagnosed, the more likely it is they’ll develop the communication, social and life skills needed for a good quality of life.

Support for carers

Are you caring for someone with autism? Find practical information and useful resources on Carer Gateway. You can also learn more about carers' support and services in your state or territory through Carers Australia.

Last reviewed: November 2016

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results


What is autism?

Read more on WA Health website

Brain Foundation | Autism

Autism Autism Description Autism is classified as one of the pervasive developmental disorders of the brain

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Autism | myVMC

Autism or autism spectrum disorders is a developmental disorder affecting the brain and impairing communication, social interaction and creative play.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Caring for a child with autism

Caring for a child with autism - find out what to do if your child is diagnosed with autism and where to get further information and financial assistance.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Autism spectrum disorders (including Aspergers syndrome)

Mothers share their experiences raising sons with high functioning autism spectrum disorders, and discuss the signs of autism in their children.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Kids' Health - Topics - Autism

Children with autism (say aw-tiz-m) get all of that information, but they are not able to make sense of it all.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) | Novita

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterised by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, a restricted repertoire of activities and interests, and repetitive and stereotyped behaviour

Read more on Novita Children's Services website

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) -

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that causes problems with social understanding, social behaviour and communication.

Read more on myDr website

Eating disorders & the autism spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects the way individuals interact and communicate with others. People on the autism spectrum have repetitive or restricted behaviours or interests, and often have sensory sensitivities. The word spectrum reflects that there are differing degrees by which people are affected. Some may require ongoing support and care, whereas others are able to live independent lives.

Read more on Eating Disorders Victoria website

Autism spectrum disorder information on video | myVMC

Autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, is characterised by behavioural and social difficulties.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo