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What is Autism? We are partly reluctant to provide a solid definition of what autism is although science and the web are abuzz with so many extremely vague and very different definitions. The first detailed description of a child that we would describe today as autistic, was written in 1799 by Jean Itard ( “The Wild Boy of Aveyron”).
Firstly, it is NOT a disease. Autism is a way of being, a state of spirit and a disposition. And it is definitely not due to psychological man-function. Today’s definition is mostly explained by the brain of people with autism being different from the rest of us, so autism would be an alternative brain design, just neurologically wired differently and a kind of perception processing. There are no two brains alike and autism is a part of that diversity.
People on the autism spectrum are not all the same either. Non-autistic people are different and individual with a wide spectrum of different abilities, lifestyles, beliefs, etc. Some think that autistic people are different from non-autistic people, because they follow less the social peer pressure, which requires a certain adaptation.
Asperger’s syndrome and autism are not clearly distinguished. All the people who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum (early childhood autism, Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning Autism, atypical autism) are too diverse, and that makes it impossible to divide autism into two or three categories. This is an arbitrary criterion, e.g. the number of points on an IQ test. A person with 80 IQ points is considered to be “high-functioning”, one with 79 points as “low-functioning”. Or in language: a child who speaks at two years of age gets Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis, and one that begins to speak at three years gets an early childhood autism diagnosis. Autism is usually considered a seamless continuum, and maybe the different categories will be replaced by a diagnosis of “Autism spectrum” in a few years in the diagnostic manual.
Autism is not the result of emotional neglect, emotional stress, abuse or trauma. The theory that autism was caused by cold, unemotional mothers emerged in the 1950s, when by default the blame for this has been pushed to mothers, if their children were not so, as society wished them. Today we fortunately know better, you can educate a non-autistic child as well as you want, it will never be autistic. It is not as common as people may think, with just 1% of the people to be on the autism spectrum.
Autism is not “curable” because:
- Autism is not a “disease”.
- Even if autism were a disease, there would be no procedure to make autism “go away”, at least for some time.
- Even if this were possible, most people on the autism spectrum would not want to be “cured”, because autism is an inherent part of their personality and to “cure” their autism would mean the extinction of their personality.
Autism doesn’t mean you are not able to speak. Most people on the autism spectrum use, at least now and then, spoken language; some speak very, very much. Children who are diagnosed with Asperger’s begin to speak at the usual age. Others begin to speak at three, others only twelve, and still others never speak, but communicate through images, sign language or the computer.
Autistic people look like other people. You would probably not tell an autistic person from a non-autistic if you were to meet one as they have no distinguishing characteristics. Everyone has their own individual talents and weakness. A few autistic people have unusual abilities so that they are call ‘savants’.
Autistic people can learn. But they learn differently from other people, and the schools are geared to non-autistic people. Autistic people who need or would need often a customized learning environment in order to realize their potential. Nonetheless, most children and young people on the autism spectrum in mainstream schools and are often not labelled as such.
Some people on the autism spectrum need a lot of support whereas others can live entirely without any support at all. It is important that even people who need assistance of any kind can still live self-determined lives.
They are just normal people with feelings and emotions like all of us, just with a different wiring system.
Symptoms improve with a multimodal and comprehensive intervention, providing the opportunity for people with autism to function successfully in different walks of life. But they will always have autism as a unique stamp of their personality!! It’s not a cure we want, we want to accept them as they are and help them acquire skills that impact their quality of life without losing its beautiful essence.