Encyclopedia > Autism

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Autism is a complex pervasive developmental disorder that involves the functioning of the brain. It is a neurological disability and not simply a psychiatric disorder, even though typical characteristics include problems with social relationships and emotional communication, as well as stereotyped patterns of interests, activities and behaviors. It also involves problems with sensory integration. Typically, it appears during the first three years of life. It is estimated that it occurs in as many as 2 to 6 in 1,000 individuals, and it is 4 times more prevalent in boys than girls (from The Autism Society of America: http://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer ).

Autism is treatable. Early diagnosis and intervention are vital to the future development of the child.

A related disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, appears to be a milder form of autism. Autism is sometimes called Kanner's Autism, Disorder or Syndrome to distinguish it from Asperger's Disorder. Another term is Low-Functioning Autism for Kanner's and High-Functioning Autism for Asperger's.

Another view of these disorders is that they are on a continuum, so can be known as autistic spectrum disorder[?]. Another related continuum is Sensory Integration Disfunction which is about how well we integrate the information we receive from our senses. Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and Sensory Integration Dysfunction are all closely related and overlap.

Some high-achieving individuals are thought to have suffered from autism to some degree. However, autism is more frequently found in individuals with learning disabilities.

There are two main types of autism, regressive autism[?] and early infantile autism. Early infantile autism is present at birth while regressive autism begins at 18 months.

Some things to mention here:

  • the idiot savant phenomenon occasionally seen in people with autism
  • autism, asperger increasingly seen as a continuum of social capability
  • recent (very controversial) research in the UK suggesting a possible link between autism and the MMR vaccine
  • the analysis of autism as "mind blindness" -- the inability to create models of other people's thoughts. the typical example of this is "where does X look for the object they stored, but which was moved by Y" -- see theory of mind[?]
  • recent claims that autism is probably precipitated by mercury/heavy metal toxicity (is there any confirmation for this in the mainstream medical literature?)

Both Oliver Sacks and Torey Hayden have written about their autistic patients or pupils, respectively. Temple Grandin has also written about her own life.

See also:

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