What is Autism

Autism meaning

Autism is a life-long developmental disability that prevents people from understanding what they see, hear, and otherwise sense. Autism results in severe problems with social relationships, communication, and behavior.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) defines autism as a pervasive developmental disorder characterised by:

  • Impairments in communication and social interaction, and
  • Restricted, repetitive, and stereotypic patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities.

Autism affects the functioning of the brain as it is a complex neurological disorder.

Autism symptoms can be present in a variety of combinations and may accompany other disabilities. Like some people with autism may have normal levels of intelligence, while most of the people with autism have some level of intellectual disability, ranging from mild to severe. This range is often referred to as high-functioning autism to low-functioning autism.

Causes of autism

The cause or combination of causes of autism is not fully known. There is growing evidence that autism is a genetic condition, and that there are likely several different genes involved. The mode of genetic transmission appears complex, and scientists are focusing their work on finding which genes may be involved and how these genes are affected.

So far, it appears that for at least a significant subgroup of persons with autism, there is a genetic susceptibility which differs across families (that is, different genes may be responsible in different families).

There is also evidence that there may be a higher prevalence among children with autism of problems very early in the mother’s pregnancy, at birth, or even after birth than for children who do not have autism.

Early life events and environmental factors may interact significantly with genetic susceptibility in the child.

Recently, various types of investigations, including imaging studies, electro-encephalographic studies, tissue studies on autopsy material, and Neuro-chemical studies, have provided further evidence of a biological basis for autism.

The individuals with autism appear to have some structural and functional differences from the brains of other people. It has been found that individuals with autism have anomalies in the brain stem and have cranial nerves.

To pinpoint the exact genes and other conditions which cause autism is possible with ongoing research.

Criteria for autistic disorder

A) A total of at least six items from (1), (2), and (3), one from (2) and (3) and with at least two from (1) :

(1) Qualitative impairment in social interaction, at least two of the following:

(a) Marked impairment in the use of multiple non-verbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction

(b) Failure to develop peer relationships as per developmental level

(c) Impaired expression of pleasure in happiness of other people.

(2) Qualitative impairments in communication, at least one of the following:

(a) Delay or total lack of the development of spoken language

(b) In individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others

(c) Stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language

(d) Lack of varied spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level.

(3) Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of interests, behaviour, and activities, at least one of the following:

(a) Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus

(b) Apparently compulsive adherence to specific non-functional routines or rituals

(c) Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)

(d) Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.

B) Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age three years:

(1)        social interaction,

(2)        Language as used in social communication, or

(3)        Symbolic or imaginative play. 

C) Not better accounted for by Rett’s Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

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