Autism - The Basics
By: Missy Poirier, OTR/L
Autism is one of the four major developmental disabilities. It occurs in one to two of every 1,000 births. It is a brain disorder, present from birth, which affects the way the brain uses information. Essentially it means that hearing, sight and other senses are not properly understood. This results in severe problems of social relationships, communication, and behavior.
The characteristics of autism differ in severity from person to person, but usually consist of the following:
♦ Severe delays in language development
● Slow to develop
● If developed, they will use a formal and monotone voice
● Usually includes peculiar speech patterns
♦ Severe delays in understanding social relationships
● Often avoids eye contact
● Seems to “tune out” the world around them
♦ Uneven patterns of the intellectual functioning
● May demonstrate a high level in particular skills in relation to their overall
functioning. Examples of this are drawing, music, math and memorizing
● The majority of autistic people have varying degrees of mental retardation
with only twenty percent having average or above average intelligence.
♦ Marked restriction of activity and interests
● May perform repetitive body movements, such as hand flickering, twisting,
spinning, or rocking. They may also display repetition in their daily routine.
Changes in their schedule cause them to be distressed.
The cause of autism is still unknown. Some research suggests a problem affecting parts of the brain that process language and information coming from the senses. There may be some imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, and possibly, involvement of genetic factors involved.
Researchers around the world are testing thousands of theories through mediums such as genetic screening, videotaping young children, and functional MRI & EEG testing, which can uncover dysfunction in the autistic brain. And with every study, they are developing diagnostic tests that will help people assess for the disorder at increasingly younger ages. Their ultimate goal is to find an early biomarker.
It is important for parents of autistic children to focus less on the difficulties their child has and more on who they are, and what they can achieve.