What Is Autism? PDF  | Print |  E-mail

What is autism? Autism is a disorder that usually becomes apparent in children as early as 6 months old.  Autism interferes with the development of social interaction and communication skills in the brain.  Autistic children often have difficulties in both verbal and non-verbal communications, interacting socially and pretending.  Autism symptoms usually appear gradually over the first two years of the child's life.  There is no known cure for autism, although with early and intensive training, afflicted people can learn to live independently.

Identification and diagnosis of autism has increased rapidly in the last two decades, which has caused an increasing number of people to ask the question, "what is autism?".  While the number of diagnosed cases of autism have jumped, previously low rates of diagnosis may be related to earlier (poorer) methods of diagnosis.

People with autism can be quite sensitive to the physical senses, including sight, smell, taste, touch & hearing.  They can often become irritated with changes in their normal schedule or routine.  In addition, they often repeat certain physical actions and become quite attached to particular objects.

What is Autism

In early childhood, sufferers of autism behave noticeably different in social situations.  They smile and look at other children less often, and respond infrequently to their own name.  While friendship is indeed still very important to those with autism, their disorder makes it difficult to establish new friends and maintain existing relationships.  They often are unable to recognize or process facial signals and other body language commonly used in interpersonal communication and rarely respond to eye contact.

Those with autism often don't use words to communicate, but instead use gestures and are often withdrawn.  Development of language skills is slowed or stalled completely.  They are often aggressive or lash out with tantrums or other explosive behavior.

In the last several years there has been a great deal of speculation in the non-medical community that infant vaccines are the source of autism.  The overwhelming majority of doctors and researchers have dismissed the idea due to its lack of scientific basis.  However, a recent study done by the University of Nevada has shown that a retrovirus known as "XMRV" may be the cause of number of disorders, including autism.  While there is no direct correlation between vaccines and XMRV, some researchers have hypothesized that vaccines disrupt the balance of viruses in the body and might therefore give XMRV the upper hand over the body's immune system.  In effect, the vaccines could "trigger" the XMRV retrovirus.

What is autism? It is a debilitating neurological developmental disorder, one for which there is no known cure, but whose sufferers can overcome the effects with training.