Introduction to Autism

Introduction to AutismAutism (autistic disorder) is a developmental disability that affects the way a child interacts with the rest of the world. Communication and social skills impairments as well as unusual behaviours, repetitive motor movements or preoccupations are usually present within the first thirty-six months of life. Dr. Leo Kanner first identified autism in 1943 in his publication entitled "Autistic Disturbance of Affective Disorder." In subsequent years, the particular clustering of characteristics that Kanner described was often referred to as "Kanner's Syndrome." "Autistic Disorders" is one of five disabilities classified as a Pervasive Developmental Disorder in the DSM IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, 40th Edition Text Revision).

Autism Symptoms

The symptoms of autism include clinically significant impairments in social interaction, significant deficits in expressive and receptive verbal and non-verbal communication; and atypical stereotyped or repetitive behaviours. Characteristic traits may include lack of eye contact, repetition of words or phrases, unanticipated tantrums, inability to express needs, fixations on inanimate objects, resistance to change, and unusual responses to pain. Symptoms may change over time. Children with autism often have other disorders of brain function; about two-thirds may be cognitively impaired; and over one-quarter may develop seizures.

Causes of Autism

It remains unclear, but neurological studies seem to indicate a primary brain dysfunction. There is no single known cause of autism, but it is believed that a variety of factors can result in this disability, including organic factors, complications during pregnancy and a genetic component in some families. In most cases of autism, however, no cause can be determined (Kaplan, 1996).