What is Autism?
Autism is a strange problem of early childhood in which the child fails to develop normal relationships with the parent. The youngster is unresponsive and there is often a delay in language development. It comes from a Greek word autos, meaning self.
In 1943 Dr L. Kanner first talked about it. Since then it has become a well established condition. Fortunately it is quite rare, occurring in about five cases for every 10,000 under the age of five years. In the past few years a great deal of public interest has focused upon the problem.
It’s believed that about half of autistic children have brain damage, and it appears that more than half are severely mentally retarded. They have difficulty in relating to others. Often an autistic baby will not cuddle or “mould” into its mother’s body when being cuddled. It will tend to feel awkward and clumsy, and bend outwards rather than inwards in the customary comfortable manner of normal infants.
As they grow, their imaginative capacity is reduced. Therefore, they tend to repeat the same phrases over and over, using the same few words constantly.
Dr Kanner originally claimed that many of these children were of superior intelligence. Although quite a few appear to come from successful professional parents, his ideas have not been substantiated.
Autism is an uncommon condition, but more attention is being paid to autism as the community becomes increasingly aware of its existence.
It is a mental disorder rather than a physical one, and the cause is at present unknown. It is more likely there are several causes, each interacting.
Autistic children live in a world of their own. They are seemingly unresponsive to outside interests, and appear to reject the company and companionship of others, even those close to them, such as mothers.
They are aloof and indifferent, and treat others as remote objects. They even treat parts of their own bodies in a similar fashion. They are different from the average baby who adores company, and reacts in a happy, delighted manner.
They often learn basic skills, but seldom use these to communicate with others. For example, even after walking, they make little effort to approach their parents or to associate closely with anybody. They seldom bother to communicate with other children and indeed exercise no sense of interest in them. Being unable to communicate normally, speech is usually affected. Indeed, they may not learn to speak, or may invent their own strange jargon.
Many autistics are quite intelligent in their own strange way. But the odd behavior makes it difficult for them to use whatever talents they have. Others are mentally handicapped.
There is no remedial medical treatment for autism, but suitable management and education can help a great deal and bring to the surface whatever latent capacity is present in the child’s make-up. Of course the child’s entire future is inextricably linked with the ability to communicate with others, to talk, develop social awareness and acquire and develop technical skills.
In most cases, few autistic children become reasonable adults; many become eccentric. Some become outstanding musicians or develop other talents, but this is not usual. In most cities and countries around the world recognize the problem and many self-help and advisory centers have been created to help.
Long-term education by trained teachers who are prepared to spend an enormous amount of time and effort offers the only hope.