Autism spectrum disorders are characterised by severe deficits in socialisation, communication, and repetitive or unusual behaviours. Increases over time in the frequency of these disorders (to present rates of about 60 cases per 10,000 children) might be attributable to factors such as new administrative classifications, policy and practice changes, and increased awareness. Surveillance and screening strategies for early identification could enable early treatment and improved outcomes. Autism spectrum disorders are highly genetic and multifactorial, with many risk factors acting together. Genes that affect synaptic maturation are implicated, resulting in neurobiological theories focusing on connectivity and neural effects of gene expression. Several treatments might address core and comorbid symptoms. However, not all treatments have been adequately studied. Improved strategies for early identification with phenotypic characteristics and biological markers (eg, electrophysiological changes) might hopefully improve effectiveness of treatment. Further knowledge about early identification, neurobiology of autism, effective treatments, and the effect of this disorder on families is needed.