Autism Fast Facts

Stefanie Waldrop teaches children at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 5, 2009. The center works with children who have developmental disabilities.

(CNN)Here is a look at autism.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) incorporates a group of neurodevelopmental disorders causing impaired communication skills and social skills. ASD generally starts before three years of age and lasts a lifetime, but early intervention plays a role in treatment and progress.
ASD can be found among all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic groups.
    Health care costs for children with autism are four to six times greater than medical costs for children without autism, according to research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

    Diagnosis

    There is no definitive medical test to diagnose autism. Instead, the disorder is diagnosed by observing a child's development.
    According to the CDC, signs of autism may include deficits in social communication and interaction in a variety of contexts, difficulty engaging in back-and-forth conversation and an absence of interest in forming friendships with peers.

    Vaccines and Autism

    The debate over whether autism spectrum disorders are caused by vaccines started in 1998 when the medical journal The Lancet published a now-retracted study by researcher Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine to autism.
    Most of Wakefield's co-authors withdrew their names from the study when they learned he had been compensated by a law firm intending to sue manufacturers of the vaccine in question. In 2010, Wakefield lost his medical license. In 2011, the Lancet retracted the study after an investigation found Wakefield altered or misrepresented information on the 12 children who were the basis for the conclusion of the study.
    Other researchers have not been able to replicate Wakefield's findings. Several subsequent studies trying to reproduce the results have found no link between vaccines and autism, including several reviews by the Institute of Medicine.

    Timeline

    Early 1900s - Autistic characteristics are studied as symptoms of schizophrenia.
    1938 - Donald Gray Triplett of Mississippi is first examined by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins Hospital and later becomes the first person diagnosed with autism symptoms.
    1943 - Triplett is identified as "Donald T." in the paper "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact" by Kanner. The paper elaborates on the idea that autism is related to lack of parental warmth; this is later dubbed the "refrigerator mother" theory.
    1944 - Hans Asperger, an Austrian physician, publishes a paper about autistic syndrome. The paper gains wider recognition when it is translated into English in the early 1990s.