WHAT IS AUTISM?

The Picture...

Hamish, May 2000. Picture: Russell Kemp


The Words....

Autism is a puzzling disorder because it is difficult to understand the behaviour of autistic people and because the world is so confusing for them.

Autism Spectrum Disorders affect approximately 1 in 160 people and boys are more likely to be affected than girls.

Although the word "autism" was first used publicly by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911, criteria for the syndrome did not exist until Leo Kanner laid them down in 1943. Autism appears to have existed throughout recorded history. It occurs in all ethnic and social groups. Knowledge of autism has improved greatly over the years in some countries, although there is no known cure.

It is still not known what causes autism but recent research, especially by Simon Baron-Cohen, is pointing increasingly in the direction of its being a difference in brain structure, especially in the amygdala, from what is considered normal. It is definitely not caused by poor parenting as was once believed.

Autism is effectively a developmental disability. An autistic person will have significant difficulties in several areas of his/her development. The areas most affected are communication, social interaction and behaviour. This developmental disability may have a particular pattern called autism, or there may be varying amounts of disability in other areas of development which result in patterns called Asperger's syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD - NOS). This whole area of autistic developmental disabilities is referred to as "autism spectrum disorders". People with these disorders are affected differently, but all require specialised assistance and support.

AUTISM VICTORIA believes that the best way to help a person with an autistic disorder is to understand how the following three areas of difficulty affect their view of the world.

  1. Speech - absent, delayed or showing abnormal patterns.

  2. Play - isolated, repetitive, unimaginative, destructive, obsessional.

  3. Tantrums - can be a way of expressing extreme confusion and/or frustration.

  4. Sensory sensitivities - to certain sounds, colours, tastes, smells, textures.

  5. Obsessions -intensive interest with favourite topics, objects, places, people or activities.

  6. Insistence on sameness - routines bring some order to the autistic person's confusion - a change of routine can be very difficult to cope with.

  7. Body movements - such as hand flapping, toe walking and occasionally behaviour that may cause self injury (such as hand biting).
    
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