What is Autism?


Autism is a neurodevelopment that is highly variable from one person to another. It is a neurological malfunction that results to observable delays in development in general communication and social interaction. Autism normally occurs in the first three years of a child’s life. It normally affects the attention, perception and the thoughts of the patient. Hardly can you find two autism patients being alike. The characteristics of autism cut across three main areas of human life, which include:

  • Social impairment
  • Communication impairment (both verbal and non-verbal)
  • Brain impairment (affects both thinking and behavior)

Social Impairment

There are various sub-types of behaviors which characterize people with autism. The first less common is called the passive type and it comprises of those that can accept advances from other people, and can be involved in activities as passive partners. The other subtype is called the active group. These people do not pay attention to their colleagues and may lack direct eye contact. They may stare at something for a long time. They can be very unfriendly and will sometimes behave as if they are in their own world where nobody else exists.

Communication impairment

People with autism face a great deficit in communication in one way or the other. In sometimes, you may find them having difficulties making the simplest speech while in other times you may find them making a perfect speech. Sometimes they may repeat what you speak to them. (This is known as echolalia) Other times they may repeat words associated with something they really want to do e.g. (do you go home, instead of let me go home). They will also undergo difficulties in understanding speech (known as receptive language), they may experience confusion between words and sounds e.g. meet and meat. In addition to the problems listed above, autism patients may have a difficulty regulating their voice tones. Sometimes they may talk very loudly while at other times they may be very quiet. Sometimes they put a lot of unnecessary emphasis on some words in their speech. It is very important to know that communication involves a lot more than just the speech. For human communication to be complete, non-verbal communication is very essential. People who suffer from autism may have a lot of difficulty understanding non-verbal communication. It is very hard for them to understand facial expressions and interpret them. Sometimes they may not have the usual gestures or body postures and apparently they may not understand other people’s gestures and body postures

Impairment in thinking and behaving

People living with autism may have a hard time imagining or playing. Since they are not able to play, it therefore becomes hard to share moments of joy or sorrow with their colleagues. Observable features in these people may include repetitive activities or movements from time to time. Sometimes they may want to keep on tasting, smelling or touching things. At times, you will find them jumping up and down making loud noises. In extreme cases, you will find them banging their heads against walls and at other times they may scratch and pull their skin hard. People who suffer from this condition require a lot of consistency and a slight change may make them very unsettled and trigger the features that come with the condition.  

Autism and the Brain

According to researchers, there exist a lot of differences in the way the brain functions in people with autism. There is a generic factor that is involved in the way the brain functions and the researchers indicate that unusual growth of the brain may occur in the first ninety days of life. Autism isn't anyones fault. It is a neurodevelopment that commonly affects more boys than girls and it normally affects around 6% of the population. This means that the condition is less common as compared to the other learning disabilities. There has been some annecdotal evidence to suggest that toxins in the diet of the parents (particularly from a young age) may contribute to occurances of the sydrome, but this has yet to be scientifically proven.

Problems associated with autism

Apart from the above-stated deficits, there are other problems that come along with this condition. Some of the common problems may include epileptic seizures (especially at the teenage) hardship in learning, fragile X syndromes among others

Educating children suffering from autism

With a special support, children with this condition just like other normal children can be assisted to go through the education process (helpful resource pack available here). Some of the support that they should be given includes occupational therapy, language therapy, and psychological support. Even though they perceive the world in a different way from their colleagues, they can benefit from education together with others and the other children will also benefit by sharing experiences with them. As indicated above, people with autism vary greatly from time to time and therefore their support in the classes will vary too. It is good to know that just like other people these people can exploit their academic potential to their fullest extent possible. Though it may not be easy, and they may take a longer time, with special support and cooperation they can achieve their academic goals. In the event where the condition is severe and involves very difficult behaviors for example self-harm, aggression, and complete lack of language, the education should be provided in a special setting by a qualified professional. 

Autism and the family

Autism is a condition normally inherited from one's family. When one child in a family suffers from autism, this means that there is an element that is present in all the members of the family even if they do not live together. Many people face a lot of problems after being diagnosed with autism. Some of these include self-denial, anger, shame etc. However, if the condition is diagnosed at early stages it may be easy to contain it before it becomes worse.

However, the family may live with trauma even after treatment, which can run from medication to more traditional medicinal treatment (like acupuncture), with the mother bearing the greatest impact. According to researchers, the emotional impact on the mother can be very great to an extent of requiring medication or psychotherapy. Most of the roles in the family especially those associated with child handling are normally left to the mother. The emotional impact on the mother may even affect the status of her work and many women with such kids can hardly work away from their homes. For the few who can manage to work away from their homes are faced with a lot of challenges, absenteeism, overtimes etc. since they are unable to work effectively during normal working hours.

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