Humans have a number of specific skills that sets them apart from other species, such as the possibility to communicate through complex language and abstract thinking. These skills allow them to interact with others, understand the meaning of other people’s actions and emotions, but also to collaborate in order to plan future events, and switch rapidly between different strategies to adapt to the environment. If somebody has autism, most of these skills are impaired, typically from an early age on and such impairments usually persist into adulthood.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) as described in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; see dsm-5.org) are a heterogeneous group of neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by problems in social communication, as well as by the presence of restricted interests, stereotyped and repetitive behaviors. It is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.