Autism – a developmental disorder that begins in early childhood and lasts a lifetime. Globally, disorders with autism spectrum are currently the most common neuro-developmental disorder. In the United Kingdom and the United States they are detected in 1 child in 100 children; in Poland, they are detected in 1 child in 300. The UN officially recognized disorders with autism spectrum as one of the world’s most serious health problems besides cancer, diabetes and AIDS. Therapy and education of these children have ceased to be a marginal problem and have become a social problem affecting many families and most educational institutions.
Causes of autism
Causes of this disorder are not yet known enough. It is believed that the symptoms of autism are caused by abnormal development of brain function in early childhood. The factors, that may have influence on autism, includes genetic condition, infections, abnormalities in metabolic changes, abnormalities of pregnancy and childbirth.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the way a person suffering from disease perceives the world, processes information from the environment, and interacts with others. These people usually have difficulties in communicating with others, have communication and abstract thinking problems, and some of them also have learning disabilities.
Autism is often unrecognized and misunderstood, because autistic people do not appear to be disabled. Attention is paid only to their difficulty in communication and unusual, “bizarre” behavior. Therefore, many people around the world treat children with autism as simply rude or badly behaved. In addition to difficulties with imagination and social interaction, they also have problems controlling their behavior.
Difficulties with communication:
People with autism experience difficulties with both verbal and nonverbal communication. They often understand the statements of other people in a very literal way. They do not understand jokes, sarcasm, proverbs and phrases. It is difficult for them to understand facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures.
Some people with autism do not speak or their speech is very limited. They are usually able to understand partly what others are saying to them. That is why it is so important to use alternative communication methods such as pictograms and visual symbols.
There are also people with autism who have good language skills, but they are hard at work to establish a dialogue (the nature of the conversation), so they often repeat the words spoken by the interlocutor (echolalia) or stick to one topic and talk without interruption, about their interests.
Difficulties in social relations:
People with autism often have problems with recognizing or understanding the emotions and feelings of others and also expressing themselves. This makes it difficult for them to make social connections. They may:
• not understand unwritten social rules,
• make the impression of indifferent because they do not notice or understand the emotions of other people,
• prefer to spend time alone than to seek the company of other people,
• behave “strangely” or inadequately to the situation,
Autistic people have difficulty in making friends. Some of them want to make relationships with other people but they do not know how.
Difficulties with social imagination
The social imagination allows us to understand and anticipate other people’s behavior, to understand abstract ideas or situations not related to everyday life. Problems with social imagination make people with autism have difficulty with:
• predicting what is going to happen or will happen,
• understanding of hazards, e.g. running on a busy street can be dangerous,
• taking part in imaginative plays and games (children with autism may enjoy it, but tend to play the same thing),
• preparing for change and planning,
• coping with new, unusual situations.
Problems with social imagination do not mean that people with autism have no imagination at all. Among those who suffer from autism there are very creative people, such as artists, writers, musicians.