﻿There are several reasons why I chose the topic of Autism. First, autism is intriguingbecause it is very hard to understand. Medical science is at a loss to explain why and how it occurs.
Second, I have had occasion to develop a personal relationship with children who are afflicted withautism. At The Childrens Institute, where I volunteer, I sit and play with many kids, two of whomare very hard to play with. Even though they are five and six years old, they avoid making eyecontact with others, and often refuse to play with the other kids. Also, once they start watchingsomething, like television, it is very hard to get them to look somewhere else. They are focused,almost mesmerized by the television, especially if there are flashing lights or colors. One childrocks back and forth, sometimes slowly and sometimes faster. An older child makes noises a lot,hums and randomly laughs for no reason.
My observations prompted me to do some research intoautism and I found that these were traits which others had also observed in patients afflicted withautism. Autism has mystified scientists and doctors for more than a century. So, what do we knowabout it now? It is a complex developmental disability that usually appears during the first threeyears of life, and it arises from a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. The brainstem of a person with autism is shorter than a normal brainstem, lacks a structure knownas the superior olive and has a smaller than normal structure known as the facial nucleus.
Scientists who have observed the brainstems of autistic patients have reported that it is though aband of tissue is missing. The symptoms of autism vary from one person to another. Some people can be affectedgreatly by one symptom, while other may be affected more strongly by a different symptom. This developmental disability impacts normal development of the brain in areas such associal interaction and communication skills. Children with autism cannot interpret the emotionalstates of others, they dont recognize anger, sorrow or manipulative intent. Their language skillsare limited and they will often fail to initiate and sustain conversations.
It is common for an autistic person to avoid being touched because of a heightened sense oftouch. A light touch to most people may hurt an autistic person. On the other hand, some autisticpeople are insensitive to pain and wont notice injuries.
Hearing can also be heightened so that anoise that would not bother your or my ears, may hurt an autistic persons ears. Autistic peoplesvision can also be affected. They have trouble recognizing people. They can also have their eyeshurt by a bright light or a certain flickering.
People with autism lack normal non-verbal communication and body language. Because ofthis, they will seem more literal minded and unemotional than those around them. They also havetrouble with verbal communication which sometimes means they will take a question or statement ina literal or unusual way. Some autistic people display communication difficulties such as difficultyremembering vocabulary and pronouncing words. Some are mute.
Many need extra time to processverbal questions or comments and to reply. From time to time they will repeat things they hear oreven their own words.As you can see, autism affects its victims in a wide variety of ways. Some do well in specialsupportive environments, other are completely independent and function fairly well, and still othersmay never learn to talk or be able to work or live independently. Problems arise when autistic people attempt to handle multiple stimuli. Because they havevery narrowly focused attention, they can only keep up with one thing at a time. Most people have amind like a flashlight, with an area of high focus, and a larger area or partial awareness. Theautistic mind, though, is more like a laser-pointer that highlights only a single small dot to theexclusion of all else.
Autistic people often dislike, or display a pronounced dislike for change. They have strongattachments to places, objects, and routines. They can become very upset if they are forced toabandon these things. People with autism may be seen as extremely shy. Some may be or seem socially anxious,but others arent anxious, just uninterested or unaware of how to interact or approach others. Their lack of normal body language may make them seem more distant or unemotional than theyactually are. Autistic people will often do strange things, like flapping their hands in front of their eyes,humming, spinning in circles, rocking back and forth, or repeating things. They do these things justfor fun, or because they are excited or distressed.
The repetitiveness is related to the naturalrepetitiveness and narrow focus of the autistic mind. Talking to oneself or giggling for no apparentreason is often the result of intense daydreaming or remembering. A child with autism is normal in appearance to the untrained eye. But scientists haveidentified a few physical anomalies.
The corners of the mouth are low compared with the center ofthe upper lip, and the tops of the ears flop over. Also, the ears are a bit lower than normal andhave almost a square shape. In the information I have gathered, we see both how similarly affected the victims ofautism are and how much the effects of autism vary from one person to another.
New scientificdiscoveries have served to dispel some of the mystery of this complex developmental disability. Ofcourse, it is frustrating for anyone who has a family member or is a family friend of an autisticperson because there is still no explanation for why autism strikes. As a volunteer who works with autistic children, I believe it is important to increaseawareness and understanding of this affliction. We can and should reach out to autistic childrenand help them live lives that are as meaningful and productive as possible. In doing so, I have foundthat we can enrich not just their lives but our own as well. Miscellaneous