The word autism is derived from two Greek words ‘aut’ (meaning self) and ‘ism’ (meaning state). It is used to define a person who is usually absorbed in himself. Children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have, in one form or another, difficulties in developing and retaining relationships with others.
The word ‘spectrum’ indicates that there is a wide variation in autistic behaviour from mild to severe. It is often referred to by professionals as a pervasive developmental disorder. This means that it affects every single aspect of the childs everyday life.
There are three elements in the diagnosis of autism and a child with autism will show any or all of the following characteristics:
1) Difficulties in using language to communicate with parents and other children. For instance, there is a significant delay in the development of speech or speech is limited to repetition with very little evidence of understanding.
2) The child shows difficulty in developing relationships with others. There will be an apparent lack of awareness of others and a reluctance to either make eye contact or maintain it.
3) There will be difficulties with pretend play and imagination. The child will prefer to be alone and play activities are often repetitive.
There are two types of autism widely reported; classic autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
Classic Autism is present when a child shows all three of the characteristics outlined above. The child also has global learning difficulties which, in conjunction with their other difficulties, have an obvious impact on all aspects of their life. Classic autism is considered to be at the more severe end of the autistic spectrum.
Asperger’s syndrome is present when a child develops language relatively normally but after the age of three shows unusual characteristics. The flow and rhythm of the speech may sound robotic, stilted and usually formal. Social aspects of language also present difficulties. For example, during a conversation, of interest to the child, they may not recognise when others become bored or uninterested and persist with the conversation.
Although the symptoms influence almost all aspects of the life of the individual concerned, it is considered to be at the milder end of the autistic spectrum.