Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually appears during early childhood. It is characterized by impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, difficulties in social interaction and repetitive and restricted behavior. Usually the symptoms of autism become apparent after the age of three. The name “autism” brings together a number of similar but not identical disorders. That’s why experts often speak about the autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
There are several classifications of ADS. In order to get a general idea, it is useful to apply the classification proposed by K. Gilberg and T. Peters.
According to this classification ADS include:
- classic autism, or Kanner’s syndrome;
- Asperger’s syndrome;
- children’s disintegrative disorder;
- other similar to autism disorder;
- autistic features;
Symptoms of ADS
Overt symptoms are gradually seen after the age of six months and they are fully established after the age of two or three years, though in adulthood those symptoms are usually more muted. Autism can be characterized by a whole set of symptoms: difficulties in communication with other people, impaired social interaction, repetitive behavior and restricted interests.
People with autism often lack the intuition about others that a lot of people take for granted. Autistic children often show less attention to social stimuli, respond less to their own name, look and smile at others less often, they are less likely to show social understanding, have difficulty in responding to emotions and communicating nonverbally. In spite of the common belief that autistic children prefer to be alone most of the time children with ADS suffer from more frequent and intense loneliness.
What Causes Autism?
Scientists have come to conclusion that autism is caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Some cases of autism are associated with certain infections during pregnancy, for example, rubella infection; substance abuse (alcohol or hard drugs) during pregnancy can also cause autism. Air pollution and exposure to heavy metals during pregnancy may also lead to a later autism development in a child.
Some studies point to synaptic dysfunction as a cause of autism: rare mutations may disrupt synaptic pathways in the brain causing this disorder.
Intellectually Challenged or Not?
However, there is a common believe that people with autism are mentally incapable, but it is not necessarily true. They can be impaired in some things, but can be completely normal or even superior in other things. What is more, such people are often gifted artistically: they can be great musicians, painters, IT specialists and so on.
The advent of computers has greatly expanded the possibilities for children with autism. It is a well-known fact that many talented programmers that work for Bill Gates have autism.
Autism during History
Psychiatrists drew attention to autism in the mid-twentieth century. Dr. L. Kanner, who worked at D. Hopkins’ hospital, identified this disorder in 1943 and called it autism.
In Germany in 1944, Hans Asperger described a milder form of this mental disorder. Nowadays it is known as Asperger’s syndrome.
Currently this mental phenomenon is studied very actively. Many forms of autistic spectrum disorders have been described, various researches have been conducted to collect data, analyze facts and finally understand what autism is. Still scientists are trying to create useful methods of treatment for people who suffer from autism spectrum disorders.
Is There A Cure?
Unfortunately, there is still no known cure to this disorder. Sometimes children recover after intensive treatment, losing most of their diagnosis of ADS, and sometimes not. Autism symptoms tend to become less severe with age, although core difficulties are still present: people with autism lack meaningful relationship, social support, self-determination or future employment opportunities.