Autism is a disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. Though it describes a condition with wide ranging degrees of severity, all those affected have a triad of impairments, which will include all or some of the following:
Difficulty with developing imagination
People with autism are usually unable to play imaginatively with objects or toys or with other children or adults. They tend to focus on minor or trivial things around them, for example an earring rather then the person wearing it, or a wheel instead of the whole toy train.
Difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication
People with autism are unable to appreciate the social uses and the pleasure of communication. Even if the person with autism has a lot of speech they would probably use this to talk “at” you rather than with you. The person with autism may be able to ask for their own needs but find it hard to talk about feelings or thoughts and will not understand the emotions, ideas and beliefs of other people. They do not really understand the meaning of gestures, facial expression or tone of voice, although higher functioning people with autism do use gestures but these tend to be odd and inappropriate. People with autism understand and use language very literally, with an idiosyncratic, sometimes pompous choice of words and phrases and limited content of speech.
Difficulty with social relationships
People with autism often appear aloof and indifferent to other people. The more able people with autism will passively accept social contact and even show some signs of pleasure in this, but will rarely make spontaneous approaches. They can occasionally approach other people but in an odd, inappropriate, repetitive way, paying little or no attention to the responses of those they approach.
Autism also includes the condition known as Asperger Syndrome, which describes children who show the characteristics of autism, but are of average or above average intelligence and have good communication skills. The estimated prevalence rate of autistic spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome, is 91 per 10,000 people in the U.K. Autism also affects four times as many boys as girls.
What causes it?
The exact causes of autism have not yet been fully established. It is however evident from research that autism can be caused by a variety of conditions affecting brain development and which occur before, during or after birth. They include for example maternal rubella, tuberous sclerosis, lack of oxygen at birth and complications of childhood illnesses such as whooping cough and measles. In many instances, genetic traits appear to be important though the sites of the relevant genes have yet to be identified.
Is there a cure?
As yet there is no cure for autism, but specialised education and structured support can help maximise a child’s skills and minimise any behaviour problems. The right kind of education and care programmes are essential. They make a real difference to the child’s life enabling each individual, whatever their level of disability, to achieve as great a degree of independence as possible