Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the brain, it is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. It is part of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Today, 1 in 59 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.
Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. It affects communication, social skills, interests, and sensory responsiveness. Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning the symptoms and characteristics of autism can be present any combination of the behaviors and symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.
Autism was first identified in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins Hospital. At the same time, a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that is now known as Asperger Syndrome. These two disorders are listed in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as two of the five developmental disorders that fall under the autism spectrum disorders. The others are PDD NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. All of these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social abilities, and also by repetitive behaviors.
As indicated above, autism is a spectrum disorder and no two individuals with autism will
have the exact same symptoms. Below is a partial list of the characteristics of autism.
1. Social Skills
- may have difficulty with nonverbal behavior (eye contact, facial expression)
- may have problems making friends
- may have difficulty understanding another person’s point of view
- may have difficulty understanding other peoples emotions or their own
- may not interact with others in a typical manner or may not be interested in people at all
- may prefer to be alone
- may be interested in people but not know how to relate to them.
- may be non-verbal or have a delay in talking
- may repeat (echo) words and phrases over and over (echolalia, instant and delayed)
- may have difficulties with ‘you’ and ‘I’
- may have a large vocabulary, formal speech and speak like a ‘little professor’
- may have problems with conversations
- may have difficulty in turn taking
- may speak too loudly or have a flat or unusual tone of voice
- may have difficulty with metaphors and take everything literally
- may have difficulty understanding abstract ideas
- may have lack of spontaneous or imaginative play
- may not imitate others’ actions
- may not initiate pretend games
- may have limited interests or activities
- may do the same things repeatedly
- may have problems breaking with routines
- may have an unusual fascination in a subject or activity
- may have unusual responses to sound
- may have unusual responses to smells
- may have unusual responses to pain (may exhibit no reaction to pain)
- may have unusual responses to touch
- may not like to be held or cuddled or might cuddle only when they want to.
- may engage in self-injury, such as head-banging or biting
- may have no sense of danger
- may have problems generalizing information from one setting to another
- may have poor sleeping patterns
- may have poor eating habits
- may have poor coordination
- may have problems with sequencing and/or organization
- may have difficulty determining important information from irrelevant information
- may have uneven skill development
- may focus on details rather than the big picture or the reverse
Autism can co-exist with any number of other conditions such as (but not limited to) Epilepsy, Mental Retardation, Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, William’s Syndrome, Tourette’s Syndrome, or Oppositional Defiancy Disorder.