What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism Facts & Stats
- As often as 1 in 45 babies develop into children with autism
- A decade ago only 1 in 2,500 were diagnosed with autism. It was 1 in 10,000 in the early 80's. The disorder was first recognized in 1943.
- 2.5 million Americans have autism.
- As many as 6 million people could have autism by 2025.
- It is the fastest growing developmental disability.
- People with autism account for nearly one-fourth of the 6.2 million special needs Americans.
- 1 in 40 families are impacted by autism.
- The National Institute of Health will spend 200 million dollars in 2020 on autism research - a five-fold increase in six years.
- Autism can transform a loving toddler into a detached and uncommunicative child. Researchers aren't sure of its causes and say there is no cure. And the number of children with autism continues to rise dramatically.
- No one is sure what causes autism but research seems to suggest that it is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. There is even talk of environmental toxins and preservatives in vaccines may play a part.
What is Autism?
Symptoms usually begin to show when these children are between 12 and 30 months. Symptoms may change over the years and all children, including children with autism, learn as they grow.
Those with autism are often also mentally handicapped, which makes the disorder much more challenging for them. Many experience minor lack of muscle coordination.
People with autism are not physically disabled and "look" just like anybody without the disability. Due to this invisible nature it can be much harder to create awareness and understanding of the condition. People with autism can often have accompanying learning disabilities but everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world.
Reality to an autistic person is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. There seems to be no clear boundaries, order of meaning to anything. A large part of life is spent just trying to work out the pattern behind everything.
What is Aspergers Syndrome?
As soon as we meet a person we make all sorts of judgments. Just by looking we can often guess their age or status, and by the expression on their face or the tone of their voice we can tell immediately whether they are happy, angry or sad and so respond accordingly.
But not everyone does this naturally. People with Aspergers Syndrome find it difficult to read the signals which most of us take for granted. As a result they find it hard to communicate and interact with others.
Aspergers Syndrome is a form of autism, a disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to others. A number of the traits of autism are common to Aspergers Syndrome including:
- Difficulty in communicatin
- Difficulty in social relationships
- A lack of imagination and creative play
However, people with Aspergers Syndrome usually have fewer problems with language than those with autism, often speaking fluently though their words can sometimes sound formal or stilted. People with Aspergers Syndrome also do not have the accompanying learning disabilities often associated with autism. In fact, people with Aspergers are often of average or above average intelligence.
Because of this many children with Aspergers Syndrome enter mainstream school and, with the right support and encouragement, can make good progress and go on to further education and employment.
Characteristics of Autism
You may know a child with autism.
Do they spin around and around?
Is their speech repetitive, like an echo?
Are they attracted to shows like Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy?
Do they like to watch the same movies over and over again?
Are they fascinated with numbers and letters?
Do they seem unafraid of things that they should be afraid of?
Is it hard for them to make eye contact?
Do they shun away from being touched?
Some never learn to use spoken language, while others will only learn the basic language specific to their needs. A child may mostly repeat what he hears (echolalia). Others develop advanced speech, but have problems if in their ability to express feelings or ideas, or in knowing the right way or time to say things.
The actions of others are confusing to these children and they may withdraw from social interactions. Many have difficulty with interactive play. They may have difficulty picking up social clues so their action may not be appropriate for the situation.
With their difficulty understanding abstract ideas, these children usually prefer and learn best through concrete activities. Some show little imaginative play, some have imaginative play, but it tends to follow set themes or interests. Many prefer to repeat the same activities over and over. The child may even "withdraw into himself", engaging in repetitive self-stimulation such as rocking or rhythmic moving of the hands. These children often seek out the security of routines, and can become very dependent on them. They may avoid new experiences or situations.
It appears from both the observations of others and by first person accounts that these children often experience perceptions differently. Sights, sounds, textures that we easily accept can cause anxiety and even rage in a child. One child, for example, said that red hurt his eyes. Another flew into a rage when she felt the "prickle" of wool. They may find human contact stressful at times.
Difficulties in understanding and articulating their own emotions, or those of others, may cause your child's response in some situation to appear to be inappropriate. Emotional outbursts are common and it may be difficult for them to regain control. These outbursts may result in a child trying to hurt themselves or others.
Characteristics of Aspergers Syndrome
Aspergers Syndrome shares many of the same characteristics as autism. The key characteristics are:
Difficulty with Social Relationships
Unlike people with 'classic' autism, who often appear to be withdrawn and uninterested in the world around them, many people with Asperger syndrome try hard to be sociable and do not dislike human contact. However, they still find it hard to understand non-verbal signals, including facial expressions.
Difficulty with Communication
People with Asperger syndrome may speak very fluently but they may not take much notice of the reaction of people listening to them; they may talk on and on regardless of the listener's interest or may appear insensitive to their feelings.
Despite having good language skills, people with Aspergers Syndrome may sound over-precise or over-literal-jokes can cause problems as can exaggerate language and metaphors; for example, a person with Aspergers Syndrome may be confused or frightened by a statement like ???she but my head off'.
Lack of Imagination
While they often excel at learning facts and figures, people with Aspergers Syndrome find it hard to think in abstract ways. This can cause problems for children in school where they may have difficulty with certain subjects, such as literature or religious studies.
People with Aspergers Syndrome often develop an almost obsessive interest in a hobby or collection. Usually their interest involves arranging or memorizing facts about a specialist subject, such as train timetables, Derby winners, or the dimensions of cathedrals.
Love of Routines
For people with Aspergers Syndrome any unexpected change in routine can be upsetting. Young children may impose their own routines, such as insisting on always walking the same route to school. At school, sudden changes, such as an alteration to the timetable, may upset them. People with Aspergers Syndrome often prefer to order their day according to a set pattern. If they work set hours then any unexpected delay, such as a traffic hold-up, can make them anxious or upset.