What is autism?
Autism is a well known word and disorder, yet not many people know what it is exactly.
So what is autism, or as it is known today Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? What is a spectrum disorder?
It is a developmental disorder that includes a large variety of linked conditions. Each person with ASD doesn’t always display the same characteristics. Overall, it is a complex disorder which can lead to a person having difficulties in social conditions, as well as non-verbal and verbal interactions. It can also lead to challenges with socialising and repetitive behaviours.
Can autism be diagnosed?
Autism is difficult to diagnose, since it cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or a scan. A child goes to regular check-ups and doctors tend to check on the child’s development and behaviour. Autism is often diagnosed by the age of three, but it can be diagnosed as early as 12 months. It is also possible to get a diagnosis at an older age, although it can be difficult for those diagnosed later to learn and get used to strategies.
Do we know the cause?
There is not one, but many subtypes of autism; research is constantly ongoing to search for the causes of autism. There are some who say it is caused by environmental or genetic factors, although this may not be true and research is still continuing, and nobody really knows the main reason for this developmental disorder.
Is there a cure for ASD?
A common question often asked about autism is: Is there a cure? The answer is no, since it isn’t something that should be seen as a disadvantage, but rather a difference. Autism is just another factor which makes someone the person they are. Since it is different for every person, they all have different strengths and challenges; for example, people with autism can be very highly skilled with learning and problem solving, yet others see this as quite challenging. Another example is some may need daily help, when others are much more independent in their everyday life.
Over time a lot has changed; much more research has been done or is still ongoing. Looking at the history of autism research, we discover Eugen Blueleur, the German psychiatrist who, in 1911, first identified developmental issues which later on were linked to autism. He described it as a short range of under-connectivity and over-connectivity, meaning the brain functions would not work at the same time when in different situations. However, his idea wasn’t really recognised. It wasn’t until 1943 that autism was first given as a diagnosis; before then, a person would be diagnosed with an emotional disorder or even schizophrenia instead. In 1943, Donald Triplett was the first to be diagnosed with autism by Dr. David Kanner. Since then, there has been a lot more clinical work and research made to gain more of an understanding.
What can you do?
So, what can you as an individual do to show support and awareness? Firstly, educate yourself, learn more about the topic. There are many websites with detailed explanations, although make sure to not only look at one, since it is a broad topic with many subtopics. Secondly, speak out when hearing incorrect terms being used and make sure to learn how to respectfully handle different situations when with someone with ASD.
Overall, there are many different ways to show your support, and even the smallest actions play a part; Autism Awareness month is in April each year, so be sure to wear something blue, or wear the pin to show support.
-Autism Awareness Committee