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Photo of a child with autism


Autism is a spectrum of disorders that causes severe impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others. People with autism spectrum disorders show deficits in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Autism spectrum disorders are usually first diagnosed in early childhood. Although recent studies indicate that the number of autism cases is increasing dramatically each year, the causes of this disorder are not well understood. Twin and family studies suggest an underlying genetic vulnerability to autism, and a growing area of research indicates that the disease may be caused by an interaction between genetic and environmental factors. One hypothesis is that the disease may be triggered during early fetal development, and that environmental exposures during pregnancy could cause or contribute to the disorder. NIEHS-funded investigators at the University of California, Davis are conducting a study of more than 1,000 children that will address the role of genetics and environmental exposures in the development of autism.

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