Autism is a complex pervasive developmental disorder that involves the functioning of the brain. It is a neurological disability and not simply a psychiatric disorder, even though typical characteristics include problems with social relationships and emotional communication, as well as stereotyped patterns of interests, activities and behaviors. It also involves problems with sensory integration. Typically, it appears during the first three years of life. It is estimated that it occurs in as many as 2 to 6 in 1,000 individuals, and it is 4 times more prevalent in boys than girls.
Autism is treatable. Early diagnosis and intervention are vital to the future development of the child.
A related disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, appears to be a milder form of autism. Autism is sometimes called Kanner's Autism, Disorder or Syndrome to distinguish it from Asperger's Disorder. Another term is Low-Functioning Autism for Kanner's and High-Functioning Autism for Asperger's.
Another view of these disorders is that they are on a continuum, so can be known as autistic spectrum disorder. Another related continuum is Sensory Integration Dysfunction which is about how well we integrate the information we receive from our senses. Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and Sensory Integration Dysfunction are all closely related and overlap.
Some high-achieving individuals are thought to have suffered from autism to some degree. However, autism is more frequently found in individuals with learning disabilities.
There are two main types of autism, regressive autism and early infantile autism. Early infantile autism is present at birth while regressive autism begins at 18 months.
There has been an explosion worldwide in reported cases of autism over the last ten years. There has been considerable speculation as to why this might be, with no conclusive proof emerging around any theory. However, studies have ruled out the speculation that the rise is attributable to an improvement in diagnostic methods.
In the last decade, the population of the United States has increased by 13%. There has been an increase in non-autism-related disabilities of 16%. The increase in autism is 173%.
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Both Oliver Sacks and Torey Hayden have written about their autistic patients or pupils, respectively. Temple Grandin has also written about her own life.