Professor David Skuse describes the key symptoms of autism, which include language impairment, communication difficulties, and rigid/repetitive behaviors.
The classic symptoms of autism that we recognize from many years of research of this condition fall into three broad groups. One is difficulty in social interactions, what is called technically, social reciprocity. So that means the to and fro of social intercourse – listening to somebody, responding, they listen to you, they respond. Normal conversations, normal everyday interactions with people have a sort of turn-taking quality to them, if you will, which autistic people find very difficult to manage.
The second aspect of autism that is very well described, after the problems with social interaction concerns the use of language. People with autism have a very particular strange use of language. They tend to be very concrete and they tend not to put things into context. So, they might talk about a subject completely out of the blue, and you can’t really figure out what they’re talking about for a while because nothing led up to it. They also will tend to talk about the same subjects over and over again and their favorite subject might, for example, be vacuum cleaners or it might possibly be oil refineries, or something like this, which to most people, isn’t hugely interesting. A colleague of mine, I didn’t realize he had Asperger syndrome until one day he said to me, “you know David, there is something immensely interesting about marine engines,” and then proceeded to tell me a great deal that I didn’t really need to know, about marine engines. So, that unusual use of language is very typical of people with autism.
The third aspect of autistic behavior that we recognize is a certain rigidity, a certain inflexibility. Sometimes this is associated with agitation when people with the condition get excited which might be reflected in sort of flapping like this or sort of rocking back and forth and there are other symptoms associated with that aspect of the condition that involve certain sensitivities to smell and taste and touch and so on. So, a whole bunch of things that goes together. So, essentially we’re talking about social problems, language problems, and then stereotype, repetitive behaviors, lack of flexibility and resistance to changes, particularly dominant in people with autism.