Autism

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A boy with autism stacks up cans over and over again.

Autism is a life-affecting disorder characterized by a profound withdrawal from contact with people; repetitive behaviour; and fear of change in the environment. The emotional disorder affects the brain's ability to receive and process information.

People who have autism find it difficult to act in a way that other people think is "normal". They find it difficult to talk to other people and to look at other people. Often, they do not like being touched by other people. A person who has autism seems to be turned inwards. They may talk only to themselves, rock themselves backwards and forwards, and laugh at their own thoughts. They do not like any type of change and may find it very difficult to learn a new behaviour like using a toilet or going to school.

Autism is caused by the way that the brain develops, both before and after a baby is born.

Around the world, about 1 in every 160 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.[1]

Autism is a "spectrum disorder"[change | change source]

Autism is a "spectrum disorder". This means that some people who have autism are only mildly affected. These people may go to regular schools, go to work, and have partners and families. Mild autism is called Asperger Syndrome or "High functioning Autism". Some people are affected worse than others. These people may be able to take care of most of their own needs at home like dressing and getting food, but not be able to have a regular job or travel alone. A person who has severe autism may need to be cared for all their life.

Some people who have autism are extraordinarily gifted or talented. These people are said to have savant syndrome.[2] They are often very good at just one thing in particular, like mathematics, playing the piano or remembering football scores.

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders[change | change source]

In most cases, when referring to the Autism Spectrum Disorder, we are referring to the most common disorders:

All three may seem similar in symptoms, yet are not the same.

Over the past years, individuals have been using the terms "autism" and "autism spectrum disorder" like they mean the same thing, according to an article from UCLA Center for Autism Research & Treatment. Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Ted Hutman, Ph.D. stated that “When people use the term autism, it can mean one of two things. They may actually be referring to autistic disorder, or classic autism. But autism is often used in a more general sense to refer to all autism spectrum disorders. So if someone is talking about your child’s autism, don’t assume that he or she is implying that your child has autistic disorder, rather than another autism spectrum disorder.” 

Signs and behavior[change | change source]

Staying alone[change | change source]

A baby without autism will usually look at people talking, look at other people's faces, smile, and be interested in other people. Autistic babies, though, may like objects more than faces and other people. They may look for a second at a face, but quickly turn. They may not smile, or may just smile at what they are interested in.

Autistic children may usually like to be by themselves, without other people around. They may not be interested in making friends. They may also not react normally to hugging and other signs of love by their parents. This does not mean that they do not love their parents, they just do not know how to say it.

They may also not see other people's feelings; for example, they might not see much difference between whether a parent is smiling or feeling sad. They may laugh and cry at the wrong times.

Not talking[change | change source]

An autistic child might not try to talk, point, or otherwise try to get a message across by 1 year of age. Some do not understand their language at all. Some autistic people do not speak. When young, many mute autistic children can be taught to speak by teaching them that talking is a way to communicate ideas. However they may try to communicate using pictures in books, photos, signing or picture cards when they are non-verbal but have clear understanding of language.

Young boy asleep on a bed, facing the camera, with only the head visible and the body off-camera. On the bed behind the boy's head is a dozen or so toys carefully arranged in a line.
A young boy with autism who has arranged his toys in a line

Doing things over and over again[change | change source]

Some autistic people spend a lot of time doing the same thing over and over again; some might spend a lot of time spinning in circles, chewing their toes, or putting things in order. An autistic person might spend a huge amount of time putting toys in lines or patterns and may get angry if someone bumps something out of place.

Some do not want any change, and will do exactly the same things every day without change—such as what they eat, when they eat, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, or going to school—and may even get upset if anything changes.

Some may also be interested in unusual things, and may spend all of their time learning about their interests.

Causes[change | change source]

Scientists do not know exactly what causes autism. There may be many different causes for the different types of Autism Spectrum Disorder.[3]

Scientists do know about some things that make a person more likely to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. These are called risk factors. However, risk factors are not causes. Not everybody who has a risk factor will have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Risk factors only make it more likely that a person will have one of these disorders.

Risk factors[change | change source]

A person is more likely to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder if:[3]

Things that do not cause autism[change | change source]

Scientists do know for sure that vaccines do NOT cause autism.[4][1][5] Vaccines do not even make a person more likely to have autism - even if they are already at a high risk for autism before they get their vaccines.[6]

Scientists also know that parents do not cause their children's autism by not being loving enough.[7]

Treatment[change | change source]

Since autism runs a spectrum, every person with autism is different. Different treatments help different people. There are a few different categories of treatment:

Depending on what a child (or adult) with autism needs, they can get treatment from one of these categories, or many different treatments.

History[change | change source]

Early history[change | change source]

The word "autism" comes from the Greek word “autos”, meaning “self.” The term describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction—hence, an isolated self."[8]

The term "autism" was first used by a psychiatrist named Eugen Bleuler in 1911 to describe a group of schizophrenic patients who seemed withdrawn.

Discovery[change | change source]

Head and shoulders of a man in his early 60s in coat and tie, facing slightly to his right. He is balding and has a serious but slightly smiling expression.
Leo Kanner first described autism in 1943.

Two researchers by the name of Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner were the pioneers of the research study for autism in the 1940s. Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger both worked separately in their research, yet the information and their views on the children they studied became very helpful for physicians then and now.  

Leo Kanner did a study of 11 children and found unusual things about them.  The children he studied had difficulties with many tasks, including changing environments, sensitivity to certain stimuli, difficulty with activities, speech problems, and allergies to food.

In 1944 Hans Asperger studied a group of children and found very similar things. The children in Hans Asperger's group did not repeat words or have speech problems like Kanner's did. However, the children did have problems with fine motor skills (things like holding a pencil). The children he studied seemed to be more clumsy than other children.  

Hans Asperger's discovery is now called Asperger syndrome. Leo Kanner's discovery is called autistic disorder, childhood autism, infantile autism, or simply autism.

The "refrigerator mother" theory[change | change source]

In 1943 and 1949, Kanner described the children he studied in scientific papers. In these papers, he wrote that he thought the children's parents were not loving enough. He wrote that this might be part of the reason why the children had autism.[9][10] For example, in his 1949 paper, he wrote that the children's parents showed "coldness" (meaning they did not show warmth, or love, to their children).[10] He thought these parents were so "cold" that he compared them to refrigerators:

[The children] were left neatly in refrigerators which did not defrost. Their withdrawal seems to be an act of turning away from such a situation to seek comfort in solitude.[10]

This idea became known as the "refrigerator mother theory." For decades after this, parents were blamed for causing their children's autism by not being loving enough.[7]

Later history[change | change source]

Niko Tinbergen, the ethologist, gave his Nobel Prize lecture on autism on 12 December 1973.[11]

Related pages[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]

Scientific studies

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Questions and Answers about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)". WHO.int. World Health Organization. September 2013. http://www.who.int/features/qa/85/en/. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  2. Treffert DA 2009. "Savant Syndrome: An Extraordinary Condition – A Synopsis: Past, Present, Future". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences (Royal Society of London) 364 (1522): 1351-1357. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0326. https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/_WMS/savant/pdf/resources/articles/savant_article.pdf. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Facts about ASD". CDC.gov. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. February 24, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  4. "Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism". CDC.gov. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 23, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  5. Doja A; Roberts W 2006. "Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature". Canadian Journal of Neurological Science 33 (4): 341–6. doi:10.1017/s031716710000528x. PMID 17168158.
  6. "No Association Found Between MMR Vaccine and Autism, Even Among Children at Higher Risk". The JAMA Network. Journal of the American Medical Association. April 21, 2015. http://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/no-association-found-between-mmr-vaccine-and-autism-even-among-children-at-higher-risk/. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Farrugia D 2009. "Exploring stigma: Medical knowledge and the stigmatization of parents with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder". Sociology of Health and Illness (Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.) 31 (7): 1101-1027. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01174.x.
  8. Brennan, Dan (May 19, 2015). "History of Autism". WebMD. WebMD, LLC. http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/history-of-autism?page=3#1.
  9. Kanner L 1943. "Autistic disturbances of affective contact". Nerv Child 2: 217–50. Reprinted in Kanner, L (1968). "Autistic disturbances of affective contact.". Acta Paedopsychiatr 35 (4): 100–36. PMID 4880460. "One other fact stands out prominently. In the whole group, there are very few really warmhearted fathers and mothers.... The children's aloneness from the beginning of life makes it difficult to attribute the whole picture exclusively to the type of the early parental relations with our patients.".
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Kanner L 1949. "Problems of nosology and psychodynamics in early childhood autism". Am J Orthopsychiatry 19 (3): 416–26. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.1949.tb05441.x. PMID 18146742. "[Children were exposed from] the beginning to parental coldness, obsessiveness, and a mechanical type of attention to material needs only.... They were left neatly in refrigerators which did not defrost. Their withdrawal seems to be an act of turning away from such a situation to seek comfort in solitude.".
  11. Tinbergen, Nikolaas (December 12, 1973). Ethology and Stress Diseases: Nobel Lecture (Speech). Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1973/tinbergen-lecture.html. Retrieved February 14, 2016.