With autism, developmental impairments are usually evident in the first twelve months of life. Symptoms of autism cluster around three core features – impaired social interaction, difficulties in communication/language, and a tendency to engage in repetitive or stereotyped behavior. While these features are common to all people with Autistic Disorder, there are considerable differences in the extent to which they are exhibited.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, and has a biological basis, which is present at birth. Many affected children appear different from their brothers and sisters, whilst they are still in their infancy. Parents know something is wrong in their child’s social or language development, but may be inappropriately reassured by professionals if that child does not have the classic symptoms of autism. In recent years autism specialists have come to recognize that there are many children with the characteristic features of autism who have intelligence in the normal range. Terms that are often used to describe them include Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. Milder forms of the condition are sometimes known as autistic spectrum disorders.
We used to think most autistic children were mentally retarded, mute, uninterested in social contact, and were locked into a world of their own. Such children were educated in special schools and never achieved independence or formed intimate relationships.
As yet, no one has been able to define exactly where the boundaries of autistic behavior end and normal-range behaviors begin. Despite this uncertainty, there is no doubt that services have yet to identify many children with significant autistic impairments, which are seriously affecting their social development and educational attainments.