Autism is symbolised by a puzzle piece - very appropriate for a condition - or more accurately - a spectrum of conditions which have no known cause and no cure. Furthermore, autism is considered an epidemic in the United States as it has increased tenfold in the last forty years. Now, one in 88 children is affected somewhere on the spectrum of the disorder from high-functioning to non-verbal with severe physical complications. Strangely it effects 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls. The prevalence among boys remains a mystery.
I read an article in the NY Times on the weekend which said that autism can now be diagnosed in infants as early as 6 months old with a CT scan. The changes in the brain have been studied and are now identifiable. Early detection is obviously a help in providing parents and caregivers with the knowledge and tools to cope. Autism isn't a sentence - there are many, many things that can be done to help children learn and function well into adulthood.
Extreme controversy remains about the role of certain childhood vaccinations in triggering autism.
A high-functioning PhD with Asperger Syndrome (another developmental disorder on the spectrum) claims that autism - no matter where you are on the spectrum - is not a disease, just different.
For more information on the subject, here are some great web links: