"Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group. Experts estimate that 1 out of 88 children age 8 will have an ASD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 30, 2012). Males are four times more likely to have an ASD than females."
This is to supplement Sephira's fine response above...
Many of humankind's greatest geniuses (as well as just really fine contributors) are now thought to have been on the autism spectrum. So, another way to look at autism is part of human diversity. There can also be great suffering, of course, but slowly we learn more and more of how to incorporate this way of being in the world.
One person who formerly came on Ask was mother to two autistic youngsters, and she referred us to the work of Temple Grandin; especially Ms. Grandin's book THINKING IN PICTURES.
An inside look into autism, that book was very helpful for me!