The use of the term “autism” comes from Greek which means “to be very self-reliant”. By Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, the term was first used for children with a profound developmental disorder. Autistic disorders can be very different. Today we speak of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
People with a disorder from the autism spectrum perceive their environment differently (autistic perception). They can barely empathize with other people and communicate adequately with them. They can not recognize the mood of their counterpart from his face. Contacts are rather avoided. They are happy to deal with a specialty. They have difficulty adjusting to the new and the desire to make everyday routines always the same (rituals). Often they are oriented towards details and have difficulty comprehending a situation holistically. In many cases, those affected are rather awkward in their movements.
Over- or hypersensitivity to light, smells, sounds or touch is common. They show z. As a fascination for light or shiny surfaces, as anxiety reactions to special noises, as a fondness for intense body contacts or as a conspicuous Beriechen or feeling of surfaces and objects. These over- or under-sensitivities (the autistic perception) mean that children or adults of the autism spectrum have great problems understanding their environment as a meaningful whole. Achieving learning success is made more difficult.
These autistic characteristics can be very pronounced – they then impede the development of a child significantly and usually occur in the first three years of life. In this case, one speaks of early childhood autism.
If the characteristics are less clearly recognizable, they are often noticeable later on in the environment of the person or person himself. The diagnosis then made is also known as Asperger syndrome. The symptoms vary greatly from person to person and change in their expression during the course of development.
The causes of autism spectrum disorders are still not fully understood. Certain factors play a role in development. Genetic influences and biological processes before, during and after birth can impair the development of the brain and trigger the autism spectrum disorder. It does not arise from parenting or family conflicts. With targeted support and support, people with autism can develop their skills and be better integrated into society.
Until about 1980, severely affected children with early childhood autism were diagnosed as “autistic”. With the concept of autism spectrum disorders, the diagnosis was made more frequently. Recent studies show that about 1% of the population is affected by an autism spectrum disorder (boys or men more often than girls and women).
“Some sounds hurt my ears as if the drill hits a nerve at the dentist.”
– Temple Grandin
Forms of the autism spectrum
Early childhood autism
The children described by the American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner in 1943 were diagnosed with childhood autism. Therefore one knows the name Kanner autism. Kanner’s description and definition have long shaped the image of childhood autism.
The affected children have abnormalities in three areas:
- In language and communication: z. Late or missing speech development or loss of existing speech, frequent repetition of words or sentences.
- Abnormalities of social interactions: z. B. Special features in eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures, little interest in other people or awkward forms of contact, lack of understanding of processes within groups.
- Repetitive, restricted, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities:
B. Turning on wheels of toy cars, stringing objects, conspicuous hand or body movements, sticking to habits, trouble with program changes.
First indications are often available from the age of 12 months. With 2 – 2 1/2 years, a reliable diagnosis can usually be made. Children with early childhood autism often show a general developmental backlog.
In children with an autistic disorder, the symptoms are not present in all three areas mentioned, they have only become clear later or not very pronounced, it is called atypical autism.
In children with early childhood or atypical autism, the general level of development and their functional level in everyday life is of great importance. One differentiates, therefore “high” and “low” functioning autism, the border lies with an IQ of approximately 70.
The Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger wrote about children, who especially had big problems to find their way in groups.
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome develop normal linguistic and cognitive development during the first years of life. Their problems often only become clear when they spend more time with other children. They also show abnormalities in different areas:
- Impairment of social behavior: eg. For example, reduced interest in peers, difficulties in putting oneself in others, often awkward social interactions with other people.
- Speech and speech disorders: z. For example, a prudent, pedantic language or a special speech melody, literal understanding and thus trouble with irony or puns.
- Abnormalities in nonverbal communication: z. B. in eye contact or in the use of facial expressions and gestures.
- Distinctive interests that take a lot of time, that are repetitively exercised and often have a more technical character. Preference for formulas, timetables, technical details, historical data or the like; Girls and women are also often interested in people with special gifts or for individual species.
In addition, there are often difficulties to adapt to new and the desire to make everyday routines always the same (rituals). In many cases, those affected are awkward in their movements. They are often hypersensitive to bright light, special sounds smell or touch.
In contrast to the other autistic forms, the problems of the affected children or adolescents are often only apparent in kindergarten or at school – sometimes even as adults.
The perception and thinking of people with Asperger syndrome are very different from that of other “neurotypical” people. They are able to quickly get an overview of a new situation, while “Aspergers” (as people with Asperger’s Syndrome call themselves) often perceive many details and then try to identify a system behind them. Often they also have a very good memory for these details.
New classification of autism spectrum disorders
Many studies have shown that professionals usually agree on when to make an autism diagnosis. The American autism specialists have decided to only use the diagnosis “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASS) in their DSM-5 diagnostic system. In order to describe the affected persons in more detail, it is noted whether an ASD with or without speech disorder, mental disability or, for example, epilepsy exists. The severity of the autistic disorder is described by the person’s need for support (low, medium or high). The ICD-10 diagnostic system used by the WHO and in Switzerland is currently being revised. It is not yet clear whether ICD-11 will take on all the new features of DSM-5.
The other side of autism
So far, the majority of the speech was about difficulties and problems that autistic people have to deal with in everyday life. But they also have many strengths.
People from the autistic spectrum are usually honest and open and direct in their communication. Thoughts and lies are alien to them. If you are interested in a topic or activity, you can study it with great enthusiasm and perseverance and acquire a lot of knowledge and skills. Associated activities perform them conscientiously and concentrated. For works that demand accuracy and a sense of detail, people with autism have a good chance of evolving. Promising is the connection of the special interest with education and profession.