What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how
a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It
also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
Autism is a term used since the 1940s to describe a different developmental pattern that emerges in early childhood but persists into adult life. It can have a major impact on how people learn, interact and behave. At its core, autism is a social disability: the most noticeable effects are on how people interact with others, which in turn affects how they learn and use language to communicate, how they develop and how they behave.
People with autism will have difficulties or differences in three areas of development. These are described as the triad of impairments (triad simply means three) and include communication, social understanding and flexibility of thought and behaviour. Many people with autism also experience the world differently through their senses: they may, for example, be under-sensitive or over-sensitive to certain sounds, smells or visual sensations. Autism is a spectrum disorder, it encompasses a wide range of ability and intensity. Some more able people with autism do not like to have a ‘disorder’ so that the term Autism Spectrum Condition ASC is becoming more widely used.
Autism is a Neurodevelopmental Disorder – the person’s brain has developed in a different way. Examples are:
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Specific language impairment (SLD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
There is a substantial overlap between these disorders.
- Early onset, lifelong disorders
- Delay/deviance in how the child matures socially and emotionally
- General tendency for problems to lessen with age
- Some degree of general or specific learning difficulty
- There is a genetic component in all as well as environmental influences.
- There are always more males than females.
Strengths of Autism
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders experience many difficulties throughout their lives, however, it is important to recognise that not all of the traits associated with these disorders are negative ones-
- Understand concrete concepts very well
- Memorise rote material easily and quickly
- Recall visual images and memories easily
- Think in a visual way
- Learn chunks of information quickly
- Learn to decode written language at an early age (called hyperlexia, many children on the autism spectrum can decode earlier than they can comprehend written language)
- Have extraordinarily good long-term memory
- Understand and use concrete rules and sequences
- Can be very precise and detail-oriented
- Be depended upon to maintain schedules and to be on time
- Be honest, even to a fault
- Be extremely focused, if it is a pleasurable task (and which may be the tasks others do NOT want to do)
- Have difficulty being devious
- Have an excellent sense of direction
- Be very genuine; may not understand the motive behind trying to impress others, and therefore don’t bother
What do we mean by autism spectrum disorder?
- usually <3 years
- 65% present from birth
- 35% delayed
Autism & Asperger Syndrome
Autism was first described in detail in 1943 by Leo Kanner after observing similar behaviour patterns in 11 children. He further noticed a common "extreme aloneness from the beginning of life and an anxiously obsessive desire for the preservation of sameness" (Kanner, 1943, p. 217).
People with Asperger Syndrome present with similar barriers to learning as others on the autistic spectrum, however, their intellectual competence also brings different complexities.
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