Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder, mainly in communication and social interaction that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The first signs of this disorder typically appear before age
3. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that one in every 175 children born in the U.S. today will fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. It is estimated that 1,500,000 people in the U.S. today have autism” (Autism Society of America, 2006).
Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.
What are the characteristics of autism?
People with autism generally experience three main areas of difficulty; these are known as the triad of impairments.
Social interaction (difficulty with social relationships, for example appearing aloof and indifferent to other people)
Social communication (difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice)
Imagination (difficulty with the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example, having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively).
What causes autism?
Autism has no single, identifiable cause. The disorder seems to be related to abnormalities in several regions of the brain, some of the cells and connections in the brain those that affect communication, emotions, and senses – don’t develop properly or get damaged. Scientists are still trying to understand how and why this happens (Hartman, 2006). Some researchers have identified a number of gene defects associated with autism.
Families with one autistic child have a one in 20 chance of having a second child with the disorder. In some cases, relatives of autistic children show mild impairments in social and communication skills or engage in repetitive behaviors.
Children with symptoms of autism have a higher than normal risk of also having: Fragile X syndrome – which causes mental retardation, Tuberous sclerosis in which tumors grow in the brain, Tourette’s syndrome and Epilepsy.
Some people believe autism is cause by vaccines — particularly the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR), as well as vaccines containing thimerosal, a preservative that contains a very small amount of mercury. But extensive studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism.