[aw-tiz-uh m]


Psychiatry. a pervasive developmental disorder of children, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity, and emotional detachment: now considered one of the autism spectrum disorders.
a tendency to view life in terms of one's own needs and desires.

Origin of autism

First recorded in 1910–15; aut- + -ism
Related formsau·tist, nounau·tis·tic [aw-tis-tik] /ɔˈtɪs tɪk/, adjectiveau·tis·ti·cal·ly, adverbun·au·tis·tic, adjective
Can be confusedartistic autistic Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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Contemporary Examples of autism

Historical Examples of autism

British Dictionary definitions for autism



psychiatry a developmental disorder whose symptoms include difficulty in responding conventionally to people and actions and limited use of communication
Derived Formsautistic, adjective, noun

Word Origin for autism

C20: from Greek autos self + -ism


Rather than talking about an autistic or autistics, it is better to use phrases such as a person with autism and people with autism
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for autism

1912, from German Autismus, coined 1912 by Swiss psychiatrist Paul Bleuler (1857-1939) from comb. form of Greek autos- "self" (see auto-) + -ismos suffix of action or of state. The notion is of "morbid self-absorption."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

autism in Medicine




A pervasive developmental disorder characterized by severe deficits in social interaction and communication, by an extremely limited range of activities and interests, and often by the presence of repetitive, stereotyped behaviors. It is evident in the first years of life and is usually associated with some degree of mental retardation.infantile autism Kanner's syndrome
Related formsau•tistic (ô-tĭstĭk) adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

autism in Science



A developmental disorder characterized by severe deficits in social interaction and communication and by abnormal behavior patterns, such as the repetition of specific movements or a tendency to focus on certain objects. Autism is evident in the first years of life. Its cause is unknown.
Related formsautistic adjective
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

autism in Culture



A serious disorder appearing in childhood and characterized by the child's refusal to relate to other people and severely limited use of language. The cause of autism in children is unknown, but researchers generally feel that it lies in a malfunction of the central nervous system, not in the way parents have treated them or in other aspects of their environment. The term is sometimes applied, more loosely, to adults who are extremely self-absorbed and who see things in terms of their hopes and fantasies rather than realistically.


A psychiatric disorder marked by deficits in communication and social interaction.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.