Autism was first studied in 1943 by a child psychiatrist named Leo Kannerin the USA. He named the condition autism – from the Greek word for self, autòs – because the children seemed to withdraw into iron-walled universes of their own.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects an individual’s perception of the world and how the individual learns from his or her experiences. Even among the most complex disabilities, autism remains an enigma. It is defined as a lifelong developmental disability that affects how an individual communicates with, and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.Autism is often accompanied by learning disability, severe sensory defensiveness, motor coordination difficulties, intellectual impairment, limitations in adaptive behavior, and seizure disorder, among others (National Trust, 2012).
Autism is also referred as Autistic Disorder.
The commonly seen features of autism are:
• Deficits in social interaction
• Deficits in communication
• A restricted repertoire of activity and interests
Deficits in Social Interaction
Children with autism are observed to lack eye contact. As babies they may have awkward postures or may either resist being carried or may want to be hugged excessively. They may not point, show, bring or share enjoyment of objects of interest to them. As young children they ma show little or no interest in establishing friendships and may also appear oblivious to the presence of other children or adults.Older individuals may have an interest in friendship but may lack the understanding of the conventions of social interactions. They tend to prefer solitary activities. They may also show no recognition of the needs of others, or may not notice another person’s happiness or distress.
Deficits in Communication
Individuals with autism have difficulty in both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (gesturing, facial expressions) communication. Language is often delayed or there is a total lack of language.
Individuals who do speak have difficulty in using language to communicate. They may have a monotonous voice and the pitch, intonation, rate and rhythm may be abnormal. Often, there is a tendency to repeat words or phrases regardless of the meaning. They are unable to understand simple questions, directions or jokes.Children with autism have inappropriate play patterns. There is a tendency not to imitate childhood imitation games or if they do, it is only out of context and in a mechanical way. They lack spontaneous make-believe or pretend play.
Limited Interests and activities
Individuals with autism also exhibit repetitive (stereotyped) and restricted behaviors, interests and activities. These behaviors are intense and focused. Some individuals may line up objects in the same manner over and over. Some may be preoccupied with interests such as fans or escalators, numbers, letters, or even with collecting facts about pet topics. Some maybe preoccupied with movement or parts of objects-spinning the wheels of a toy car, strings, and pieces of paper. Some may even be attached to objects that they unreasonably insist on carrying with them at all times.Theremaybe a tendency to keep to daily routines such as the order of getting dressed or maintaining the same place at the dinner table or even keeping to the same route to school everyday. Sometimes even minor changes in the environment may result in these individuals reacting adversely and throwing tantrums.Stereotyped body movements such as clapping, finger flicking, or rocking of the body, abnormal postures like tip toe walking, odd hand movements may also be present.Some individuals with autism have islets of intelligence that oftenthat often supersede those of normal individuals. Some may be gifted in areas of music, art or even math.
Some parents report that children developed normally till one or two years of age before manifesting characteristics. Some report a regression in language development. However, to be diagnosed as having autism, if there is a period of normal development, it cannot extend past three years of age.
Autism presents itself by the time a child is 30 months old. But children at risk of developing autism may be screened with Modified checklist of Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) as early as 15 months. There are several diagnostic tools such as Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CRAS), Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS), and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual- 5th Edition (DSM-5) among others, are used for diagnosing autism. Many professionals also use the Indian Scale for Assessment of Autism (ISAA), for identification and certification of autism. ISAA has been developed by the Ministry of Health, Govt. Of India.
Evidence suggests that Applied Behavior Analysis is the most effective in teaching children with autism to learn social skills, communicative skills and behavior management.Autism is a spectrum disorder and hence children with ASD require structured teaching and appropriate placement in settings that meet their needs. Thus, for some special schools are suitable, and for others mainstream education is appropriate along with special support.Children with autism need such related services as sensory integration and occupational therapy, language and communication therapy, and adaptive physical education. Training for independent living skills and suitable employment contribute towards improving the lives of individuals and families with ASD, enabling them to live productive, meaningful and dignified lives.