My first recollection of autism is connected to watching the ‘Rainman’ movie and thinking about what happened to that brilliant child on the screen. On one hand, so talented on the other so restricted. My next close encounter with the disorder took place when my daughter became a teacher for disabled kids ages seven through ten. I still remember that night when she came back home from school, I looked at her face and knew something tragic must have happened. She shared with me her experience with one of her students Huntington’s disease with autism. Now she brings home the knowledge and awareness that I would not have otherwise. As with all critical occurrences, there is no one single description of the disorder or the cure of it.
Autism is in fact the core condition of a spectrum of disorders, which all share common characteristics and are demonstrated in very diverse ways within each individual.
Autism is a major disability, affecting communication and interaction with other people, but also with the world.
The degree of autism varies from severe to mild, but the consequence is always serious. Accordingly, someone with autism may have severe autism with severe additional learning difficulties, while others may have mild degrees of autism with normal or high levels of intelligence. The majority of those affected by autism have learning disabilities. Their language development varies greatly. Some may have very good speech, although lacking full comprehension, while a significant portion of those with autism will have no spoken language. Many may be hypersensitive to noise, light, touch or smell, and under-react to pain.
The particular causes of autism are not known; we do know however that it is a biologically based disorder affecting the brain development. The patterns of disorderly behavior do not emerge until the child is between 18 months and 3 years old. At times there is a period of seemingly normal development and then, between 18 months and 3 years, the child gives the impression to withdraw and lose skills. We do know that parents are not to blame for autism, but, actually, are the child’s greatest resource.
As for the common signs of autism – those are social, communication and behavior. Autism is displayed in social settings, verbal communication, nonverbal communication, development of imagination and resistance to change of a routine.
Here are examples of such behaviors. Affected kid shows indifference; he or she joins activities with others only if adult insists and assists. The interactions in social settings are one sided. He or she indicates need by using an adult’s hand, does not play with other children, talks consistently only about one topic, displays bizarre behavior. Very common is echolalia, when the child copies words. Laughing or giggling comes up in the most inappropriate times. There is no eye contact, variety is not spice of life, and there is lack of creative (pretend) play.
Some of the affected kids can do some things very well and very quickly, but those never involve social interaction. Early diagnosis of such condition is crucial in order to minimize the problems and maximize the full potential of the person.
I cannot tell if the explosion of autism since 1980 has been triggered by our ability to diagnose or by the actual changes in the fetus and baby development caused by the overdose of chemicals. I know though, that we managed to register 77,000 artificial food additives since 1940 and that an average American consumes 14 pounds of chemicals with their food per year. The results of these statistics cannot be ignored by our bodies. Simple reality check: if you would not put something into your fish tank, don’t stick it in your body.
Maybe it will not happen to eliminate autism, but it will definitely help our health and the world.
In the mean time I would like to invite you to gain more information about the early detection of the disorder and ways to gain control of the situation.