Autism is a lifelong, extremely complex and often devastating disability, which appears to stem from a multi-factorial origin with a genetic base that interacts with environmental triggers, resulting in disordered brain development and biochemical function.
International research has shown that worldwide, the prevalence of autism is on the increase and is now considered to affect approximately 1 per 158 children under the age of 6 years. It is found to occur in 4 times as many boys than girls and is the most frequently occurring of all childhood neurological disorders. New statistics within the UK indicate that approximately 1 per 60 children are now being diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
There are a vast number of ways that autism can present and as a result this disability is now more often referred to as "Autism Spectrum Disorder" (ASD). In broad terms, there are 3 main types of autism on the spectrum:
- "Kanner/Classic AUTISM", where in addition to the autism, there is also intellectual impairment.
- People affected by "Asperger Syndrome" generally display a good or above average intellectual ability,but still have most definite, prevalent and debilitating autistic traits.
- 6% of the total population affected by autism have a form referred to as "Savant Autism", where there is one almost "superhuman" ability, but the rest of their functioning is adversely affected by autism.
Regardless of the manifestations of autism, all people on this spectrum are affected in different degrees, by the "Triad of Impairments" that causes a disturbance in quality of development in the following areas:
LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
40% of people with "Kanner/Classic Autism" never speak nor understand verbal communication. Even those across the full spectrum who do have speech, often still have severe problems understanding the normal process of reciprocal communication.
People with autism, due to the altered chemistry and functioning within the brain, literally cannot fully understand other people's emotions, reactions and the complexity of social relationships (this is referred to as being Mind Blind). This can result in people with autism reacting inappropriately by our "normal" standards, thus being shunned by society. And this can, sadly, result in them becoming confused and isolated from those around them.
IMAGINATION AND CREATIVE PLAY
A person with autism usually becomes trapped by rigid thought patterns and behaviours, a limited range of imaginative activities, as well as a poor understanding of day-to-day concepts, jargon and the abstract.
As yet, autism is not curable, but with appropriate intervention, it is possible to guide each individual towards their full potential in life, by improving their quality of life and particularly by assisting the individual on the spectrum of autism with inter-personal relationships.