What is autism?
Autism — sometimes referred to as autism spectrum disorder or ASD — is the general term used to identify a group of very complex brain development disorders. The symptoms of these disorders vary widely, but usually include severe problems with social interaction and both verbal and nonverbal communication. Repetitive behaviors – such as twirling or hand waving — are another hallmark of the condition. Some children diagnosed with autism develop normally from birth, only to digress after the age of one or two, losing the language and social skills they had started to develop.
Other signs of autism, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, include difficulty with social interactions; lack of eye contact; a hyper sensitivity to light, sound or the texture of foods and clothing; an unusual attachment to objects; slow language development or complete lack of language development; and the need to stick to rigid routines. Those diagnosed with autism may also show an increased or decreased reaction to pain, may react to normal levels of sound as painful, and may need to withdraw from physical stimulation because it feels overwhelming.
Autism is a physical disorder believed to be caused by abnormal brain chemistry and physiology. The exact cause of the disorder has not been identified. Many different factors may combine to produce the disorder. Areas that have been evaluated for possible correlations with ASD might include heredity, diet, mercury exposure, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and, perhaps, a sensitivity to vaccines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. And, while ASD has been identified in every ethnic, racial and socioeconomic group, it is five times as likely to occur in boys as in girls. Nearly half of all people diagnosed with ASD have average or above average intelligence. Most children are not diagnosed until after the age of four. However, the condition can be successfully identified, according to the CDC, in children as young as two.
What is the Difference between Autism and Asperger Syndrome?
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder. This means that the severity of symptoms that people diagnosed with autism experience can fall anywhere along a broad range — or spectrum — of disability. The abilities of people at one end of the spectrum can be extremely different from those on the other end. People on the spectrum can range from those needing constant care and supervision for their whole lives, to people who grow up to live completely independently, with friends, families, homes and successful careers.
Those with Asperger syndrome are considered to have a highly functional form of autism. They usually have an average, or even above-average, level of intelligence. While they do not usually talk sooner than other children, they often develop large vocabularies early on and can converse on complex topics, earning them the nickname of “little professors.” They can attend regular public schools and, because of their intense ability to focus, are often quite successful academically.
The symptoms of Asperger syndrome can be very subtle and hard to pin down. People with the syndrome are, according to the website AutismSpeaks.org, socially awkward in a way “that’s not easily understood.” They may have trouble with making eye contact, for instance, or with modulating their voices in a normal way. They may fixate on a single subject that they find fascinating — baseball statistics, for instance, or video games — and may talk incessantly about that topic without realizing that other people are not as interested as they are. People with Asperger syndrome often feel socially isolated. They want normal, healthy friendships and social connections just as much as other people do, but often do not know how to form and sustain those friendships