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2. What is autism?

 Autism is a term that refers to a collection of developmental disorders that affect the brain. This brain disorder  affects a person’s ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the external world. People with autism have a tendency to have repetitive behaviors or interests and rigid patterns of thinking. The severity of autism varies greatly. Some people with autism can function at a relatively high level, with speech and intelligence intact. Others have serious cognitive impairments and language delays; some never speak.

An infant with autism may avoid eye contact, seem deaf, and abruptly stop developing language and social skills. It has been reported that approximately 20 percent of children with autism experience this type of neurologic “regression.”

The autistic child may act as if unaware of the coming and going of others or physically attack and injure others without provocation. Infants with autism often remain fixated on a single item or activity, rock or flap their hands, seem insensitive to burns and bruises, and may even appear to purposely injure themselves.

The disorder generally becomes apparent in children by the age of three, although some children are diagnosed at older ages. Boys are three to four times more likely to have autism than girls are. When girls are afflicted with the disorder, they tend to have more severe symptoms and greater cognitive impairment.

Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups.

Though the cause of autism is unknown, a variety of factors could be associated with some forms of autism.

These include infectious, metabolic, genetic, neurological, and environmental factors such as diet, exposure to toxins or medications.

A physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital named Dr. Leo Kanner studied a group of 11 developmentally delayed children in the early 1940s. Based on their characteristic self-involvement and self-stimulatory behavior, he coined the term early infantile autism. A group of children with similar, but milder neurologic symptoms was studied by a German scientist named Dr. Hans Asperger at about the same time as Dr. Kanner. This milder form of autism became known as Asperger syndrome (AS).

 Terms:

 Autism - A developmental disturbance that is characterized by an abnormal or impaired development in social communication and interaction skills and significantly restricted range of activities and interests.

Cognitive - A term that describes mental processes by which the sensory input is transformed, stored, and retrieved.

Social skills - Defined as cognitive and overt behaviors a person uses in interpersonal interactions and can range from simple nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact and head nods to the complex verbal behavior of offering a compromise that will meet everyone’s needs.

Asperger syndrome (AS) - A developmental disorder on the autism spectrum defined by impairments in communication and social development and by narrow interests and repetitive behaviors.Unlike typical autism,individuals with Asperger syndrome have no significant delay in language or cognitive development.

People with Asperger syndrome have difficulty with social understanding, and their patterns of behavior are often inflexible. Language, and especially abstract language, can be hard for these people.

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