Those who do have diagnoses display behaviors on a continuum of intensity. Their use of spoken language ranges from not speaking at all to being hyperverbal. They can have a unique interest in the finer details of window blinds or an intense but more socially tolerated fascination with dinosaurs. As with many human behaviors, each feature exists on a spectrum, and these spectra blend in a person to create what clinicians call autism.
By pinpointing risk-associated genes and uncovering their roles, studying the roots of autism also is providing new insights into the development of all human brains, autistic or not. Here is a taste of what we now know, and what we don’t, about autism’s causes — and what that search is teaching us about everybody’s neurology.