Autism has never been easy to explain. Psychologist, Leo Kanner, separated this condition from others and coined the term, infantile autism in 1943.
The word ‘autism’ comes from the Greek words – ‘aut’, which means ‘self’ and ‘ism’, which implies ‘orientation or state’. Autism is then the condition of somebody who is unusually absorbed in himself or herself. It is a life-long disability seemingly affecting areas of the brain that control understanding, emotion, speech and gesticulation, and the general ability to interact socially.
The signs or symptoms of autism generally appear during early childhood. Autistic children, if unattended, can
become so withdrawn that they have difficulty in developing normal social and emotional relationships with the
people around them, and in comprehending and being fully aware of their environment as a result of their mental deficiencies. Normal development of communication is inhibited and speech is delayed or developed abnormally. As a result of this failure to cope with people and situations, the child is slow in play and social interaction. When the development of social skills is retarded, the autistic child appears to be odd in the areas of self-growth, family orientation and interaction in society.
An autistic child tends to resist change and is often upset when something new is introduced to him or her.
Therefore, ritualistic use of objects, odd and repetitive behaviour, and obsession with objects are usual. More often than not, the child is hyperactive and does not know when to stop. Prolonged temper tantrums and screaming fits are very common.
Child autism frequently occurs with other disorders, including mental retardation. It affects four times as many boys as girls. Other than this gender bias, there appears to be no other pre-disposing traits such as social class or race. Autism varies from mild, moderate to severe. Based on recent studies, autism globally affects 1 child per 150 children.
The actual cause of autism is not yet known but researchers believe that it probably has physiological causes
induced by chemical imbalances in the brain. Other probable causes include genetic defects, pre-natal
predisposition, serious psychological influences in early childhood, or a multiple combination of the above
factors. A current controversy in the United Kingdom implicates a vaccination regime given to children and the
accompanying bowel irritation.