What is Autism?
Autism is a life-long developmental disorder that seriously affects the way individuals communicate and interact with those around them. It usually manifests itself during the first three years of life.
Autism is often referred to as a "spectrum disorder," meaning that its symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in a variety of combinations, ranging from mild to quite severe.
The phrase “Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)” refers to a broad definition of autism including the classical form of the disorder as well as Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS), Rett's syndrome, Asperger syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.
How is Autism Manifested?
Impaired communication and social interaction are the most fundamental symptoms of autism. Individuals with autism have difficulty interacting with others and often find eye contact challenging. As many as fifty percent of individuals with autism are non-verbal and up to eighty percent are intellectually challenged. A small percentage is gifted with incredible artistic, mathematical or technical ability.
Common behaviours include seemingly purposeless repetitive behaviour, unusual responses to people or attachments to objects, resistance to change, and extreme sensory sensitivity.
Who is Affected?
At least one in every 165 Canadian children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. School boards across the country report an increase in students with autism of as much as 63 per cent in the last two years. One in 10 Canadians will be touched by autism in their lifetime.
Autism Spectrum Disorders are now more common than Down’s syndrome, childhood cancer, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, blindness and deafness.
There is no definitive cause or cure for autism, but current research suggests a genetic base to the disorder and links it to biological or neurological differences in the brain.
How are the Challenges of Autism Dealt With?
The most effective method of dealing with autism is through a program of structured intervention combining education, support and training.