Autism is a disorder that affects the entire person and most often lasts for the lifetime of the person that it affects. Specifically this disorder affects one’s ability to create emotions, memories, sensory abilities, non-verbal communication skills and much more. It affects one in one hundred and fifty individuals of all races and social status; and tends to affect more boys than it does girls.
A common description that I have heard among professionals is that many people who suffer from autism can think thoughts but cannot vocalize those same thoughts.
Key Symptoms Include the Following:
Repetitive Behavior – For example, a young child may seem unusually fixated on a particular toy, constantly arranging objects in a specific way or obsessive about certain things.
Lack of Social Interaction – Another symptom is in the area of relationships. Research has found that people who suffer with autism are usually ‘socially unaware’. This means that they are oblivious to the feelings of people around them.
Verbal and Nonverbal Communication – By nature, autism is a neurobiological disorder. Hence it affects the manner in which the brain converts thoughts into words. Therefore, a child might be thinking of an answer to a question, but vocalizing it becomes a very difficult task! Non-verbal communication is difficult for many of us who are considered “normal”, so imagine what it must be for one who has difficulty connecting with their emotions – let alone the emotions of others!
Limited interests in activities or play – For example, a child might focus on a part of a toy instead the whole toy or play a specific tune on a toy over and over again, rather than play the twenty-nine other tunes on the toy. Also the need for a rigid routine would mean that any new activities are met with resistance.
Tell Tale Signs
During early childhood it is not uncommon for parents to have troubling instincts about certain behaviors that their child may display – for example they may not want to be held, don’t look people in the eye, have delayed speech, lack of interest in games or what I call ‘super repetitive play” – where the child only seems interested in one toy – ever, etc. As both a parent and a teacher (as well as one who has an autistic half-sister), please, please, please follow your instincts.
Nobody knows your child the way you do, so if your pediatrician says “wait and see” yet you feel strongly that your child needs to be evaluated – do what YOU feel needs to be done. Parents that I have heard from have mentioned some of the following as red flags that got them concerned – their child was ‘not pointing’,’not giving them eye contact’, didn’t seem to be ‘able to focus’, ‘unaware of their surroundings’ or as one lady put it “I just don’t feel like she is connecting with me”.
Early intervention, especially in the pre-school years has been proven (by researchers) to, in many cases improve social, cognitive and communication skills – especially if it is in an educational setting that is tailored to meet the needs of a child with special needs. Remember, for some children, the earlier the intervention, the better!
Types Of Autism
A spectrum has been created for autism which makes it possible for the medical profession to accurately diagnose the disorder. The disorders range from mild (Asperger Syndrome) to severe (Autistic Disorder) and can be diagnosed by the age of three and sometimes as early as eighteen months. Autism Spectrum Disorders are categorized based on the degree of impairment that the sufferer encounters in the following areas;
o Communication Skills
o Social Interaction
o Restricted Patterns of Behavior
In 1940, Hans Asperger’s described a set of behavioral symptoms that occurred mostly in his male patients. They all seemed to have normal intelligence and language development, yet they had poor co-ordination and communication skills. In addition their social skills were very noticeably lacking.