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This disorder effects the development of social interactions and communicational skills. These such dysfunctions can be seen in related body movements which impair social interactions (some being hand flapping or rocking), it is exhibited in difficulty in interacting with other individuals in leisure or play activities and verbal or non-verbal communication. Individuals with autism also have extreme sensitivities in the five senses and impairments in imaginative play. Dr. Ruth Sullivan of the Autism Services Center says the Autism is characteristic of extreme aloneness, unresponsiveness to other people, in ability to understand and use language in a normal way and they tend towards the preservation of sameness. 1 . Dr. Lorna Wing states that Autism is a problem of understanding messages from the senses (especially those of sight and and hearing). When these signals reach the brain, they are not linked to an understandable image of the outside world which leads to lack of understanding and a lack of an ability to communicate. The results of this are that autistic individuals appear to be withdrawn and live in an isolated world of their own. Frustration of their inability to communicate and see themselves as part of their surroundings leads to disturbed behavior.2
The three main behavioral aspects of Autism are; problems with language development, social skills deficits and atypical activities and behavior. Before the age of 36 months, autistic individuals have a language defect. Their restrictive or atypical activities starts with screaming, tantruming, and not wanting to be held. 3
Individuals with autism can have language problems, socialization problems, intelligence problems and physical, but chemical and neurological problems can be involved to (but not psychological problems). Over fifty percent of children with autism donít have speech.
Each individual with autism has a different combination of autistic symptoms. The main symptoms found in individuals with autism are as follows, grouped into five different categories. 4
6. Severe Delays in Social Development
This group includes an unresponsiveness to people, an unresponsiveness to physical contact, littler of no appropriate play with toys, little or no eye contact, a preference to being alone, , inappropriate laughter and screaming and a strong and an inappropriate attachment to objects, this can very possibly be the result of high sensitivities. An example of this is how often children with autism will be fascinated with the ground, stones or pebbles, sand and water, these can all be contributed to the high sensitivity of touch, sound etc. that is often present.
7. Severe Communication Impairment
The symptoms in this group are based on the communication gap seen in individuals with autism in understanding others and in communicating their wants to others. These include misunderstanding or not understanding gestures and tone, having a difficulty with abstract concepts, a lack of comprehension of the content and timing of conversation, the focus on only one topic (this is called perseveration), echoing of what is said (called echolalia which can be seen in the echoing of a previous topic at an inappropriate time), and a reverse of the pronouns in speech. An example of the last is if they are hungry, they will say "You are hungry". Sometimes, children with autism also use 'metaphorical language', in other words, if they wanted to go play soccer outside they might say they wanted to go blue or something that represents outside or soccer to them. Another lingual differentiation is making neologisms or a 'new word' to describe something. This happens in many young children but not to the extent where if confronted with the word, they will not give it up, where as in individuals with autism, they themselves believe the new word is common and should be known by all and are baffled why others donít comprehend or understand. 5
3. Atypical Behaviors
These behaviors include a strong resistance to any change in familiar pattern, self stimulating behavior (including rocking, hand flicking or spinning), hyper/hypo sensitivities to sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing, (this characteristic has been thought to be the cause of many other autistic behaviors, possibly even the cause of autism, for more information on this see Causes), insensitivity to pain, an unresponsiveness to cold or heat, tempertantrums, and self-injurious behavior.
4. Early Onset
Autism occurs within infancy and childhood and can have related disorders which lead into adulthood also.
The two main learning deficits related to autism are the difficulty relating learned skills from one environment to another (this is called generalizing) and uneven learning patterns (where the individual will be poor in some areas and possess exceptional abilities in others).
Over time, when children with autism progress into adult hood, their symptoms may lessen with age or seemingly disappear all together. Many of the behaviors that plagued them before can be consciously changed with intervention and programs to help integrate them. Still, the majority of adults with autism will still have different characteristics manifested in them through out their lives. Many autistic individuals can grow to become productive, integrated members of society, living on their own and carrying on a job for example.
1. Autism - Handle with Care by Gail Gillingham, (Future Horizons, Inc., Arlington, Texas, 1995)pg.10
2.Autism -Handle with Care pg.10
3. Autism - Little Victories (Video) T.H.A Media Distributors Ltd.
4. Panthlet the Autism Society of British Columbia (formerly the Pacific Association for Autistic Citizens) 1998
5.Autism: the Facts Simon Baron-Cohen and Dr. Patrick Bolton Oxford University Press New York NY © 1993