What is autism? Autism is a developmental disorder. It is characterised by deficits in social interaction and communication, as well as by stereotypical and repetitive behaviours. These symptoms typically appear before the age of 3 and it affects approximately 4.5 times as many boys than girls. In some cases, some children are delayed developmentally from birth whilst others develop typically up to a certain point and then begin to regress. When asking, “What is autism?” it may be helpful to refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose autism. The DSM V highlighted the following criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder:
A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.
This may include but is not limited to, little or no language skills, language delay, poor eye contact, little or no understanding of non-verbal behaviour such as gestures and failure to; understand emotion, interact with others, develop interpersonal relationships.
B. Restrictive, Repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities as manifested by at least two of the following:
• Fixated interests such as a specific TV program or song.
• Inflexible adherence to routines or ritualised patterns of verbal/non-verbal behaviour i.e. only eating one type of food, dressing in only blue, following the same daily schedule.
• Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects and speech for e.g. walking on tiptoes, hand flapping, spinning the wheels of toy cars , repeating the same phrase continuously.
C. Symptoms must be prevalent in the early developmental period.
D. Symptoms that produce an impairment in different areas of the child’s life: social, occupational, language, motor.
E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (Intellectual developmental disorder) or Global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and Autism Spectrum disorder may co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.
So essentially, what is autism? Autism is like learning to speak to foreign language. You may know some of the words but you need to immerse yourself in a conducive learning environment to foster fluency. What is autism? Autism is like learning to prepare a meal, the ingredients often change, but the dish is extraordinary. What is autism? Autism is like learning to walk, at first you stumble, but with help and perseverance your legs show you the way. What is autism? Autism is like painting a picture, after much practice you can create a work of art. What is autism? Autism is like learning to tell time, it may be a bit confusing in the beginning, but it eventually guides you. What is autism? Autism is like learning to wait, it takes a lot of patience. What is autism? Autism is learning how to build a house, takes a lot of tools and effort. What is autism? Autism is learning a sixth sense in order to identify the other five senses. What is autism? Autism is beautiful, Autism is bold and Autism is fearless.