Autism is a neurological disorder and people with autism have impairments to a greater or lesser degree in the following areas:
- 1. Communication and Language : A child with deificts in this area may not be able to communicate its needs ( example – can't say " I want to eat" when hungry, cannot ask for water when thirsty , cannot accurately respond to instructions, cannot answer questions about oneself etc. Some children may develop no speech and others may have speech but may not be able to develop reciprocal communication ex: talking around a topic. Some children may demonstrate "echolalia" and repeat things instead of responding. ex: when asked "what are you doing?" may repeat the same statement instead of responding to the question. )
- 2. Socialization : Many children with autism are known to be oblivious to the presence of others around; they may not make eye-contact, may not respond to greetings or engage in interactive play with peers. Even children who can speak could be fixated on a few subjects and not be able to make or build meaningful conversation with their peers. They may miss social cues and may not respond appropriately to sarcasm, teasing or other non verbal cues. Many a times they have difficulty in adapting and adjusting to changes in social rules too.
- 3. Ritualistic and repetitive behaviors : Most children on the spectrum have some form of stereotyped or ritualistic behaviors ( repeated flapping of hands, rocking back and forth , flicking fingers, repeatedly pouring sand through fingers , repeatedly watching spinning objects, insisting on taking the same route to school, sitting on one particular chair etc.)
Autism is a new challenge that humanity is facing. Children and adults with autism are seen to have severe problems in relating to others, managing their activities of daily living, understanding and following instructions etc. Some of them also develop severe self injurious behaviors such as head hitting , face hitting, eye gouging etc.
Recent research estimates from center for disease control in United States place the incidence of autism at one in 88 new child births .
The cause of autism is not known beyond indications that genetics, neurological developmental factors and environmental factors could be at work. However, the need to find ways of dealing with the skill deficits is paramount in the present.
While there is no 'cure' for autism, hope is at hand in the form of procedures based on the science of Applied Behavior Analysis which helps children with autism learn language, communication and social skills and progress to become more adapted.
According to the United States Surgeon General (1999) :
"Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior."