Autism is not a disease but a condition in which psychological development is disturbed which also result in disturbed perceptions and relationships. It is one of the most common developmental disabilities and ranges in severity from being a simple handicap, which puts simple limits on a normal life, to a devastating disability, which requires institutional care.
Out of every 1,000 children, 6 are affected by autism. The condition usually presents itself during the first three years of life, but some children already show symptoms from birth. Sometimes, babies undergo normal development but show signs later on, usually between their 18th to 36th months. Although autism tends to be more common in boys than in girls, it does not discriminate among race, ethnicity, social boundaries, family income, lifestyle, or educational levels.
Autistic children display many different characteristics:
- Communication difficulties: they have trouble understanding what other people think and feel, also making it hard for them to express themselves with words, gestures, facial expressions, or touch.
- Sensitivity problems: they may be easily pained by sounds, touches, smells, or sights.
- Repeated body movements, like rocking or hand flapping.
- Unusual responses to people and/or surroundings; they may not seem to notice what goes on around them.
- Unusual attachments to objects.
- Refusal to change routines.
- Aggressive behavior which may cause harm to others and self.
- Development of seizures.
The mental abilities of autistic people also vary and are not limited to retardation. While most are mentally challenged, some display normal or even above-average intelligence. Mentally retarded people show a relatively even skill development. On the other hand, autistic people show uneven skill development. They may have problems communicating and relating to others, but they may also have above-average skills like drawing, creating music, solving math problems, or memorizing facts. This is why autistic people sometimes get average or above-average scores on nonverbal intelligence tests.
Different forms of autism
- Autistic disorder is the most widely known condition, which refers to difficulties in communication, social interactions, and imaginative play in children below 3 years old.
- Asperger’s syndrome is a condition in which there are no language problems, but the same social problems and limited scope of interests that are typical in Autistic Disorder.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Atypical Autism is a catchall category in which children have some autistic symptoms but don’t fit into the other categories.
- Rett’s Disorder only occur in girls and only present between the ages of 1 to 4 years when they start to lose communication and social skills and to develop repetitive hand movements, which replace normal hand functions.
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder also shows normal early development in children for the first two years, after which some or most of the communication skills are lost.
Causes of autism
- Autism tends to run in families, therefore suggesting that people may have a hereditary predisposition to this condition.
- Exposure to certain drugs or chemicals, like alcohol or anti-seizure drugs, during pregnancy increases the risk of the child becoming autistic.
- Certain diseases are also linked to predisposition to autism: untreated Phenyketonuria (PKU, an inborn metabolic disorder caused by the absence of an enzyme), German measles or rubella, and celiac disease (inability to tolerate glutein in grains).
- The precise reason for autism is not clear, but physical problems in certain areas of the brain that interpret sensory input and process language, as well as brain chemical imbalances may play a role.
- There is no evidence that the psychological environment of a child causes autism.