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Isolated in worlds of their own, people with autism appear indifferent and remote and are unable to form emotional bonds with others. Although people with this baffling brain disorder can display a wide range of symptoms and disability, many are incapable of understanding other people’s thoughts, feelings, and needs. Often, language and intelligence fail to develop fully, making communication and social relationships difficult. Children with autism do not follow the typical patterns of child development. In some children, hints of future problems may be apparent from birth. In most cases, the problems become more noticeable as the child slips farther behind other children the same age. Other children start off well enough.
But between 18 and 36 months old, they suddenly reject people, act strangely, and lose language and social skills they had already acquired. As a parent, teacher, or caregiver you may know the frustration of trying to communicate and connect with children or adults who have autism. You may feel ignored as they engage in endlessly repetitive behaviors. You may despair at the bizarre ways they express their inner needs.
And you may feel sorrow that your hopes and dreams for them may never materialize. Gone are the days when people with autism were isolated, typically sent away to institutions. Today, many youngsters can be helped to attend school with other children. Methods are available to help improve their social, language, and academic skills.
Autism is found in every country and region of the world, and in families of all racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds. Emerging in childhood, it affects about 1 or 2 people in every thousand and is three to four times more common in boys than girls. Girls with the disorder, however, tend to have more severe symptoms and lower intelligence. Understanding the Problem of Autism Paul has always been obsessed with order. As a child, he lined up blocks, straightened chairs, kept his toothbrush in the exact same spot on the sink, and threw a tantrum when anything was moved. Sometimes, when upset or anxious, he would suddenly explode, throwing a nearby object or smashing a window. When overwhelmed by noise and confusion, he bit himself or picked at his nails until they bled.
Alan As an infant, Alan was playful and affectionate. At 6 months old, he could sit up and crawl. He began to walk and say words at 10 months and could count by 13 months. One day, in his 18th month, his mother found him sitting alone in the kitchen, repeatedly spinning the wheels of her vacuum cleaner with such persistence and concentration, he didn’t respond when she called. It was as if someone had pulled a shade over him.