Autism - What exactly it is?


The term "Autism" was first described by an Austrian-American psychiatrist and physician, Leo Kanner in 1943 who mentioned about children with delayed echolalia who usually wanted to maintain sameness in their lives, many of them being gifted in terms of intelligence and extraordinary memory.

When we try to search about Autism on the internet , we are bombarded with tons of information and technical jargon which leads to confusion.

This article presents important information related to Autism in a simplified step by step manner. So, let's start understanding Autism by means of the following questions.

1) What exactly is autism? Is it a mental disease? Is it curable?

Autism, also called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate & interact. People with autism face difficulty in communication and social interaction.
Autism is not a mental disease. There are ample high achievers in various areas who are on the autism spectrum.
Since autism is not a disease, there is no medicine or cure for it. But it can be managed with early intervention & therapies.

2) What are the main symptoms of autism?
- Delayed milestones
- Lack of social interaction
- Difficulty in verbal/non verbal communication including eye contact
- Repetitive and solo play
- Toe walking
- Hyperactivity

3) What causes autism?
There's no one cause of autism. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic, non genetic or environmental influences.

4) Does autism ever go away?
No. Autism is a lifelong condition. Since it is not a disease, it has no cure.
Also, being a spectrum,there are varying degrees of autism & levels of disability.

5) What happens when there is no intervention?
Without adequate support, children with autism are not able to develop age appropriate skills with regards to learning, speech and social interactions. Adults who have not received appropriate intervention during childhood may have trouble living independently and may have to struggle with relationships.
Early intervention plays a major role in settling the issues faced by children with autism.

6) What is early intervention & how does it help kids with autism ?
Early intervention is specialised support for children with autism (including developmental delay). Early intervention should start as soon as possible after a child is diagnosed. It includes therapies like occupational therapy, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), speech therapy, language & communication, special education and so on.

Early intervention makes a significant difference to a child's ability to learn new skills and increase their success in school and life.

7) What is Occupational therapy, ABA, speech therapy & special education? How will it be helpful for my child with autism?

Occupational therapy (OT) - It helps in development of independent functioning through various activities that a person performs everyday.
OT should not be confused with physiotherapy (PT). The basic difference between PT & OT is that a PT focuses on improving the patient's ability to move their body whereas an OT focuses on improving the person's ability to perform activities of daily living.

ABA - Applied Behaviour Analysis- It is a scientific approach to understanding different behaviors. ABA is a method of therapy used to improve or change specific behaviors, not just used to correct bad behavior.

Speech Therapy - A majority of kids on the autism spectrum face issues like speech delays, lack of language & communication and inability to express their needs. A speech therapist helps in development of speech, language, social interaction skills, communication, ability to express thoughts, ideas & feelings and clarity of speech & articulation.

Special Education - Due to issues associated with ASD, children on the spectrum find it very challenging to attain basic education. Special educator ensures that such students are provided with an environment and techniques that allows them to be educated effectively by addressing their individual differences & special needs.

8) Can autistic children lead normal lives? Can they become doctors, engineers, actors etc like NT kids? Can a person with autism get married?

Yes, kids with autism can be as successful in their chosen fields as any other person.There are ample examples all around the world of high achievers who are on the spectrum. Some of them are -
- Elon Musk - CEO of Tesla Motors
- Bill Gates - co-founder of Microsoft
- Temple Grandin - Animal scientist
- Michael Phelps - world swimming champion with 22 Olympic medals is ADHD
- Emma Watson - actress & UN Goodwill ambassador is ADHD
- Justin Timberlake - singer, songwriter, actor has ADD with OCD
- Jammie Oliver - British celebrity chef has ADHD
- Some well-known personalities with dyslexia include Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Cruise.

These are a few examples of highly successful people who were diagnosed with autism & faced difficulties. Otherwise the list is really long.Also, people with autism can lead a happy married life too .

9) Are there any celebrities/famous people with kids on the autism spectrum?

Yes, there are many famous people who are raising special needs children. Some of them being-

- Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, whose son has cerebral palsy
- Sylvester Stallone, famous American actor, has a son who is on the autism spectrum son
- John Travolta, American actor, his son has autism and the list goes on.

Hindi films "My name is Khan" & "Taare Zameen Par", Web series on Amazon Prime "The Good Doctor " and "Young Sheldon" are few examples of modern works of art that make us understand what autism is like.

It is high time that society starts accepting people on the autism spectrum as one of them and giving them their due place. Treating autism normally like any other issue will definitely make a remarkable difference in mental health of ASD people.


About Author
Shivani Lohia

Shivani is a practicing Chartered Accountant and an Autism Activist. She is passionately working towards creating sensitivity in society for people on the autism spectrum. She is a core member of "Autism Parents Forum" which is a group of motivated individuals who have taken the responsibility of creating autism awareness in our society.

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