• What is Autism?
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  • What is Autism?
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a child's life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that profoundly affects the functioning of the brain. It is estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals. Autism is 4 times more prevalent in boys than girls. Its prevalence rate now places it as the 3rd most common developmental disability more common than Down Syndrome. Autism is often referred to as a spectrum disorder, which means that the symptoms of autism can occur in many combinations and may range from mild to severe. Children with autism often look normal, but seem to be withdrawn into their own world.

Individuals with autism find it hard to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. Aggression and self-injurious behavior may also be present. Other behaviors exhibited may include repeated body movements (such as rocking and hand flapping), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes and routines. Individuals with autism may experience sensory problems in the 5 senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste. Although a single cause of autism has not yet been found, recent research links autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disability suggesting a genetic basis to the disorder.

Even though there is no cure for autism, better understanding of the disorder has lead to the development of interventions and coping mechanisms. With the proper intervention, many of the autism behaviors can be positively changed, appearing to the untrained person that the child or adult no longer has autism.

However, the majority of people with autism may still continue to exhibit some symptoms of autism throughout their entire lives.

The following areas are among those that may be affected by autism:

  •  Communication: language develops slowly or not at all; uses words without attaching the usual meaning to them; communicates with gestures instead of words; short attention span;
  • Social Interaction: spends time alone rather than with others; shows little interest in making friends; less responsive to social cues such as eye contact or smiles;
  • Sensory Impairment: may have sensitivities in the areas of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste to a greater or lesser degree;
  • Play: lack of spontaneous or imaginative play; does not imitate others' actions; does not initiate pretend games;
  • Behaviors: may be overactive or very passive; throws tantrums for no apparent reason; shows an obsessive interest in a single item, idea, activity, or person; apparent lack of common sense; may show aggression to others or self; often has difficulty with changes in routine

Autism Check List

Individuals with autism usually exhibit at least half of the traits listed below.

Insistence on sameness; resists changes in routine

Severe language deficits

Difficulty in expressing needs; uses gestures or pointing instead of words

Echolalia (repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language)

Laughing, crying, or showing distress for reasons not apparent to others

Prefers to be alone; aloof manner

Tantrums; displays extreme distress for no apparent reason

Difficulty in mixing with others

May not want cuddling or act cuddly

Little or no eye contact

Unresponsive to normal teaching methods

Sustained odd play

Spins objects

Inappropriate attachment to objects

Apparent oversensitivity or undersensitivity to pain

No real fear of dangers

Noticeable physical overactivity or extreme underactivity

Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range

Uneven gross/fine motor skills ( may not kick a ball but can stack blocks)

(The section above was adapted from the Autism Society of America brochure)

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  • Last updated: Tuesday, November 28, 2023