BELOW: Carly Fleischmann.
At the age of 10, Carly Fleischmann typed a simple message on her father’s laptop, “Help. Teeth hurt.” Such a message wouldn’t normally be impressive if written by a 10 year old, but for Carly it was different – she has autism. Until that day, Carly was thought to be severely mentally handicapped. Regularly throwing temper tantrums, she would thrash her arms and slam them on the table. So the sudden message startled her parents. Before those typed words, they had no idea that Carly could hear or understand anyone. But in that instant it became apparent that she may have silently understood everything said about her, and her handicap, in the preceding years. And it turned out that she had. While Carly’s sudden communication seems remarkable, she isn’t unique. In fact, a new theory of autism now predicts that all autists are much like Carly.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder characterized by regimented behaviour, a preoccupation with small details, and deficiencies or delays in social and communication skills. In typical cases, symptoms of autism gradually appear at the age of six months and continue to progress until the age of two or three, at which point the condition remains relatively stable. A lack of reliable statistics means that the exact number of children with autism is unknown, although the best data indicates that it may affect up to 1 in 88 individuals. And since the 1980s the number of children diagnosed with autism has steadily increased, but this simply may be the result of doctors being better able to spot the condition. It’s far from being a one-size-fits-all condition: the severity of autism varies greatly among individuals, although there are some tell-tale signs. The most common symptoms include communication difficulties: infants are often slow to start babbling, make unusual gestures and respond less than other children. At age two or three, autistic children usually show a lack of interest in communicating with others. Autists are often said to lack the intuition to tell what another person is feeling, or is implying from their words – which can sometimes lead to trouble: autists are often are unable to recognize when their actions might be taken as offensive.
Over and over and over and over again…
In addition to communication issues, autists are likely to exhibit repetitive behaviour such as hand flapping or rocking, resistance to change, compulsions and ritualistic behaviours. For example, an autistic person may show interest only in one specific topic, such as a television show or a specific toy or game. Although none of these behaviours is specific to ASD, they are far more common in children with the disorder.
The difficult path to debunk the myths Many researchers have spent their entire careers struggling to find the root cause of autism. Genetics play a significant role, but other factors are also thought to be involved – and understanding how these factors interact
PA G E 2 7 • J U N E / J U LY 2 0 1 3 • I S S U E 1 2 • G U R U
Previous Page: (middle part of tryptichon) Flickr • florian_kuhlmann, (crazy picture) Flickr • pinguino k
THE WORLD OUTSIDE