EMERGING EVIDENCE of genetic links to brain abnormalities and autistic behavior is establishing autism as an organic, rather than emotional, disorder.
To be classified as autistic, a patient must have 8 of 16 characteristics listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, revised third edition. Although the combination of characteristics displayed can vary widely among patients with autism, psychiatrist Allan Reiss, MD, and psychologist Lisa Freund, PhD, have found that one subgroup—males with fragile X syndrome—shows a consistent pattern of autistic symptoms and behaviors. This group has difficulty relating to peers, initiating conversations, making eye contact, and speaking normally. They also have motion disorders, such as hand-flapping, and abnormal sensory preoccupations, such as hypersensitivity to noise.
Men with the fragile X syndrome, which is characterized by as yet unknown chromosome abnormalities, are usually mentally retarded and usually have neuropsychiatric disorders that often include autistic behavior. Because females usually