What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that occur within the first three years of life. These disorders vary significantly in severity and are characterized by impaired social interaction and adaptation, difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive patterns of behavior. There is no known cause for this disruption in typical development, though evidence suggests physiological abnormalities in certain areas of the brain may be responsible.
Children with autism respond differently to stimuli than children might typically, which affects the way they learn, play, and communicate. These children also tend not to learn through observation or imitation, making learning in a traditional educational setting challenging to impossible. That said, ASD does not exclude intelligence or intellect, it is the manner in which learning takes place that is drastically different than that of the typical child. As they grow older, learning and functioning delays increase as well, causing them to fall further and further behind their typically developing peers. In order to arrest this trend, early therapeutic intervention is critical.
While children with autism may often display similar behavioral excesses (e.g. body rocking, arm flapping) and skill deficits (e.g. impaired communication and social adaptability), there are substantial differences between children. For instance, while some children may seek out physical stimulation through hugs or high fives or by climbing on the closest person, others may shrink from physical contact and may even express extreme irritation and displeasure when physical contact occurs. A range of social skill levels are found as well, from children who show no interest in socialization to those who only show interest in adult interaction, to those to show interest in other children but do not now how to initiate or sustain social contact with peers. Some children with ASD may be able to express their concerns and desires using age-appropriate language but may have difficulty with certain verb tenses or with speaking in monotone. Other children may lack a significant understanding of language but can echo back anything said to them. Also, self-stimulation may take the form of body rocking in a darkened room or obsessively lining up and categorizing items or listening to the same song endlessly on repeat. The behaviors displayed by children with autism are so varied and individual that there is no single set of behaviors that can be categorically defined as true to autism or children with ASD.