Description of Autism

Girl on climbing structure

Autism was recognized first in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner from John Hopkins Hospital. At the same time the German scientist Dr. Hans Aspergers described a milder version of the autistic condition - today known as Aspergers' Syndrome. Enclosed in the diagnosis of the autistic spectrum disorder are: Infantile Autism, Aspergers' Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and PDD NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified).

All of the above diagnoses of the autistic spectrum show the characteristics of different levels of diminishment of communicative and social skills, as well as stereotypical behaviors.

In general, the autistic spectrum disorder can be diagnosed at the age of 3; however, newest research assists even a diagnosis of autism as early as 6 months.

The parents are the first to notice the extraordinary behavior of their child and they are the ones who see that their child is not reaching the common developmental steps in comparison to other children. Some parents describe their child being different since birth; while others describe that their child developed typically but then lost skills. Pediatricians often miss the first signs of autism and advice the parents to wait with the explanation that the child will just need a bit more time. Newer research shows that the first concerns of the parents that something might not be right with their child will often be confirmed. If you have concerns about the development of your child (or a child you work with), don't hesitate, speak to a doctor (or the parents) to clear up autism.

In case of a diagnosis of autism, an early intervention is inevitable in order to get the best use out of existing therapies. Even though, lots of parents are worried to give their small child the label "autism"; the earlier the diagnosis is given, the earlier an early intervention can be applied. The research shows that an early intensive intervention with ABA/VB (Applied behavior analysis and Verbal Behavior) started at a preschool age and applied for a minimum of 2 years can bring extraordinary improvement for children on the autistic spectrum. As soon autism is diagnosed intensive teaching should be implemented. Effective ABA/VB programs concentrate on the development of communication, and teaching of social and cognitive skills.

Autism is a condition with a wide spectrum. A steadily increasing percentage of the population is affected (1 in 56, according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network)), boys 4 times as much than girls.

Different from other disabilities and disorders the symptoms of autism are normally not recognized by birth. The first autistic signs are seen within the first 3 years of life. At this point there is no blood test or DNA test to diagnose autism. Autism is a series of symptoms. The doctor will not look for those until specific developmental delays and restrictions cannot be explained otherwise.

A child will be diagnosed with autism when he/she shows different forms of behavior in three areas of deficit. These three areas are: social interaction, communication, and behavior / interests.

Deficits of the autistic spectrum include also poor eye contact, missing relationship to peers, difficulties to put themselves into the situation of others, as well as missing imaginary play.

If no appropriate teaching is applied, many children will be controlled so much by the effects of autism that they will not be able to manage simple human interaction.

In conclusion:

  • Early onset of autistic tendencies (signs are visible before the age of 3)
  • Different perception of the senses
  • Development of rituals and stereotypical behaviors
  • Disturbance of the entire communication
  • Disturbance in the area of social behavior and social understanding
  • Disturbance in play behavior and in joint attention
  • The symptoms of the autistic spectrum vary from very mild to severe