‘Autism’ was coined in 1912 by the Swiss psychiatrist, Paul Bleuler (1857-1939) from the Latin word ‘autismus’. He described a type of what we now know as ‘childhood schizophrenia’. His research, however, showed only a close relation to how autism is thought of today. According to Bleuler, “The schizophrenics who have no more contact with the outside world live in a world of their own. They have encased themselves with their goals and wishes. They cut themselves off, however much as possible from any contact with the outside world”. This separation from reality with the relative and supreme prevalence of their internal life is seen as a mental imbalance.
As time passes by, scientists thrived to gather more knowledge about autism, the behavioral patterns and persons suffering from this impairment. In the 1940’s, two psychiatrists called Kanner and Asperger, although worked separately, were like Bleuler. They studied small groups of children suspected of having a form of ‘childhood schizophrenia’. They observed from their research that these children possessed a distinguished symptom which happens to be different from schizophrenia. However, Kaner’s work became the bedrock of autism whilst the work of Asperger was left largely undiscussed till the 70’s. The meaning of autism and what causes an autistic developmental pattern in young lads have ever been largely contested. There was also a time when autism was seen to be a reaction to ‘refrigerator mothers.’ Although, the theory is totally untrue and has been disapproved.
Autism, according to Oxford English Dictionary, is described as a pervasive neurological disorder that is observable in early childhood and persists throughout the lifespan. It is characterized by atypical communication, language development, eye contact, and sensory experiences.
In terms of genetics, autism research is a bit sophisticated than it was a few years ago. Researchers have identified a few dozen genes that seem to be vital keys. Nevertheless, a known crisis is surfacing.
For someone to be diagnosed with autism, the behavioral symptoms such as severe and pervasive impairments, reciprocal social interaction and communication as well as behavior, and imagination must be present from age three (3). However, it is barely impossible to diagnose autism before the age of eighteen months. This is because the symptoms used in establishing the diagnosis are yet to be clearly evident.
It is also a known fact that the majority of children suffering from autism have learning disabilities, that is, mental retardation. However, a small number of them have an average intelligence. In addition, many were observed to have epilepsy, hearing and visual impairment. Persons with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a condition resembling autism, have average or above average intelligence.
Figures shown around the world shows that an estimate of 1-2 children per thousand have autism. This means that about one hundred are born with autism every year. Autism and autism spectrum, adds up to at least 6 children in every thousand. Boys have been observed to have autism more than girls.
As earlier stated, autism is a behavioral-defined condition. There is also a genetic component interpreting information. The different ways of learning and behaving in a well-adapted way leads to behavioral deviations that can be noticed. One of the noticeable aspects of autism is often the difficulties with reciprocal social interaction. As it has been observed that even from a very early age, the infant may find it hard using and understanding eye contact expressions. These children find it difficult to share their joy with family members or seek comfort from them. They are all by themselves a lot, making it impossible to keep friends.
Children with autism often have problems with initiating and maintaining a conversation. They have deficiencies with understanding languages. Roughly half of the children with autism never develop speech. Some result to using single words. Amidst those with a large vocabulary, it is still common for them to have a fixed understanding and interpretation of languages.
People with autism have restrictions. These range from their activities to interests in a repetitive manner and stereotypical way. For example, they concentrate more on activities such as spinning the wheels on a toy car or lining the toys over and over again. They can also become resistant to varying games of pretend and role playing. They tend to fix their concentration on various objects and as such any sort of change can cause an outburst of rage. It is also very common for children with autism to constantly wave their hands, walk on tiptoe and also rock back and forth.
THE WAY FORWARD
Sadly, autism is a life-long condition. There is currently no known cure. Although, many children with the conditions can still grow significantly with well-planned and individually designed efforts in certain adapted settings. An important objective is to help the child improve their communication with others while the educational approach must focus on knowledge about the ways autistic children learn.
The Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA strategies), as well as the Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH-model), are examples of such specially designed strategies for children with autism. The next step is to provide accurate information for parents and other concerned individuals as soon as possible. These will enhance the basis for their development.
Nevertheless, as adults, and throughout their lives, the majority of people with autism will constantly need extensive assistance and care. Regardless, some individuals will eventually become independent.