Autistic people suffer from a brain disorder known as autism, which results in impaired thinking, feeling, and social functioning. Typically, people with autism have difficulty communicating and forming relationships with others. There is no known cure for this condition. Experts estimate that autism will occur in three to six out of every 1,000 children.
What Does It Mean to Be Autistic?Autism is a brain disorder that too often results in a lifetime of impaired thinking, feeling, and social functioning -- our most uniquely human attributes. Autism typically affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the external world. The disorder becomes apparent in children generally by the age of 3.
Autism (sometimes referred to as "classical autism") is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders.
Other autism spectrum disorders include:
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
- Asperger syndrome
- Rett syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually called PDD-NOS).
Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will become autistic. Males are four times more likely to be autistic than females. Autistic girls with tend to have more severe symptoms and greater cognitive impairment.
Common Autistic BehaviorsAutism is characterized by three distinctive behaviors. Autistic children:
- Display problems with verbal and nonverbal communication
- Have difficulties with social interaction
- Exhibit repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests.
Some autistic people can function at a relatively high level, with speech and intelligence intact. Others have serious cognitive impairments and language delays, and some never speak.
In addition, autistic individuals may seem closed off and shut down, or locked into repetitive behaviors and rigid patterns of thinking. An autistic infant may avoid eye contact, seem deaf, and abruptly stop developing language. The child may act as if unaware of the coming and going of others, or physically attack and injure others without provocation. Autistic infants often remain fixated on a single item or activity, rock or flap their hands, seem insensitive to burns and bruises, and may even mutilate themselves.
(To learn more about these behavior patterns, click Symptoms of Autism.)