Autism is a set of heterogeneous neurodevelopmental conditions, characterised by early-onset difficulties in social communication and unusually restricted, repetitive behaviour and interests. The worldwide population prevalence is about 1%. Autism affects more male than female individuals, and comorbidity is common (>70% have concurrent conditions). Individuals with autism have atypical cognitive profiles, such as impaired social cognition and social perception, executive dysfunction, and atypical perceptual and information processing. These profiles are underpinned by atypical neural development at the systems level. Genetics has a key role in the aetiology of autism, in conjunction with developmentally early environmental factors. Large-effect rare mutations and small-effect common variants contribute to risk. Assessment needs to be multidisciplinary and developmental, and early detection is essential for early intervention. Early comprehensive and targeted behavioural interventions can improve social communication and reduce anxiety and aggression. Drugs can reduce comorbid symptoms, but do not directly improve social communication. Creation of a supportive environment that accepts and respects that the individual is different is crucial.
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