[ aw-tiz-uhm ]
See synonyms for: autist on

  1. (no longer in clinical use) a pervasive developmental disorder that commonly manifests in early childhood, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity, and emotional detachment: now considered one of the autism spectrum disorders.

Origin of autism

First recorded in 1910–15, for an earlier sense, and in 1940–45 for the current sense (in the phrase infantile autism); from German Autismus (in the earlier sense), from New Latin; aut- + -ism

Other words from autism

  • au·tist, noun
  • au·tis·tic [aw-tis-tik], /ɔˈtɪs tɪk/, adjective
  • au·tis·ti·cal·ly, adverb
  • un·au·tis·tic, adjective

Words that may be confused with autism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use autism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for autism


/ (ˈɔːtɪzəm) /

  1. psychiatry a developmental disorder whose symptoms include difficulty in responding conventionally to people and actions and limited use of communication

Origin of autism

C20: from Greek autos self + -ism

usage For autism

Rather than talking about an autistic or autistics, it is better to use phrases such as a person with autism and people with autism

Derived forms of autism

  • autistic, adjective, noun

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

Scientific definitions for autism


[ ôtĭz′əm ]

  1. 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.

Other words from autism

  • autistic adjective

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for autism (1 of 2)


[ (aw-tiz-uhm) ]

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.