Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder with multiple biological origins and very heterogeneous behavioural manifestations. Autism is conceptualized as a spectrum defined by core impairments in social communication, with a restricted range of activities and interest that vary with age and ability.
As autism has exploded into the public consciousness over the last 20 years, two opposing questions have been asked about the condition: is it a devastating sickness to be cured? Or is it a variation of the human brain, just a different way to be human?
The spectrum includes the severely impaired child of low IQ, who may be mute and exhibiting simple motor stereotypies, such as rocking. It includes the classically aloof child with echoed speech and insistence on sameness who, as well as showing some learning disabilities, shows islets of ability. The spectrum also includes very able and highly verbal individuals with less obvious symptoms. The absence of a delay in language acquisition frequently results in such cases being diagnosed much later in life. Such individuals have the same social communication problems although in a milder form, but retain narrow and obsessively pursued interests. Some of these people may crave social interactions without the understanding or ability to form relationships, have odd speech and body language, and be interested in unusual topics (e.g. registration numbers on lamp-posts). This latter picture describes the new diagnostic category of Asperger syndrome. The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is thought to be in the region of 0.6 per cent and possibly up to 0.9 per cent of the population, with approximately three times more males affected than females. There is no evidence for an autism epidemic despite an increase in prevalence. Rather, earlier studies produced much smaller figures but had a very narrow definition of autism that only applies to a small proportion of cases with autism spectrum disorder.
Read more: autism and Asperger syndrome – Fig. 1., (Published 2004), Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives from Autism – Information Processing Theory, Social Perception, Attribution Theory, Social, Communication, Cognitive, Spectrum, and Impairments http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/780/autism-Asperger-syndrome.html#ixzz1Nqh6tghe
Are conditions like autism and Asperger’s Syndrome truly disorders, or necessary variations in human development?
Scholars and parents debate whether autism is a disability or whether it should be considered merely a different kind of personality. As early as infancy, a baby can begin to show the three hallmark features of autism: communication challenges, impaired social interactions, and repetitive behaviour. Many children with autism have a reduced sensitivity to pain but may be extra sensitive to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation—which may contribute to a reluctance to being cuddled or hugged.
There is no blood test, no scan, and no image that can detect autism. Diagnosis relies on behavioral observation and screening. Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939), a Swiss psychiatrist, first termed “autism” but applied it to adult schizophrenia. In 1943, the term was redefined by Leo Kanner (1894-1981) who dissociated autism from schizophrenia to create the modern understanding of the disorder. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) argued that the world faces a critical problem with the growing number of people with mental and neurological problems, including autism, which accounts for 11% of global disease. The number is projected to reach 14.7% by 2020.
Link Between Advanced Maternal Age and Autism Confirmed
ScienceDaily (Feb. 8, 2010) — Advanced maternal age is linked to a significantly elevated risk of having a child with autism, regardless of the father’s age, according to an exhaustive study of all births in California during the 1990s by UC Davis Health System researchers. Advanced paternal age is associated with elevated autism risk only when the father is older and the mother is under 30, the study found.
“This study challenges a current theory in autism epidemiology that identifies the father’s age as a key factor in increasing the risk of having a child with autism,” said Janie Shelton, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student in the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences. “It shows that while maternal age consistently increases the risk of autism, the father’s age only contributes an increased risk when the father is older and the mother is under 30 years old. Among mothers over 30, increases in the father’s age do not appear to further increase the risk of autism.”
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder of deficits in social skills and communication, as well as repetitive and restricted behaviors, with onset occurring prior to age 3. Abnormal brain development, probably beginning in the womb, is known to be fundamental to the behaviors that characterize autism. Current estimates place the incidence of autism at between 1 in 100 and 1 in 110 children in the United States.
“Disability” can be broken down into a number of broad sub-categories, which include the following:
- Physical impairments affecting movement, such as post-polio syndrome, spina bifida and cerebral palsy.
- Sensory impairments, such as visual or hearing impairments.
- Cognitive impairments such as Autism or Down Syndrome.
- Psychiatric conditions such as Depression and Schizophrenia.
The evolution of a movementHistorically, disabilities have often been cast in a negative light. An individual thus affected was seen as being a �patient� subject either to cure or to ongoing medical care. His condition is seen as disabling; the social reactions to it are justified, and the barriers unavoidable. This position is known as the medical model of disability.Over the past 20 years, a competing view known as the social model of disability has come to the fore. In this model, disability is seen more as a social construction than a medical reality. An individual may be impaired by a condition that requires daily living adaptations, but the bulk of his problem – his disability – can be found in the attitudinal and physical barriers erected by society.Both the medical and social models agree, to a point, that facilities and opportunities should be made as accessible as possible to individuals who require adaptations. Dismantling physical barriers, or setting up adaptations such as wheelchair ramps, is known as “fostering accessibility”.The language and terminology of disabilityLately, the term disability has replaced the older designation handicapped. While these two designations can be used interchangeably, proponents of the social model of disability have appropriated the latter term to describe those social and economic consequences of the former. An individual with a physical or intellectual disability, then, is said to be “handicapped” by the lowered expectations of society.A person may also be “impaired” either by a correctable condition such as myopia, or by an uncorrectable one such as cerebral palsy. For those with mild conditions, related impairments disappear with the application of corrective devices. More serious impairments call for adaptive equipment.In the United Kingdom, people within the disability rights movement commonly use the term “Disabled” to denote someone who is “disabled by society’s inability to accommodate all of its inhabitants.”The Person First Movement has added another layer to this discourse by asking that people with disabilities be identified first as individuals. “Person First Language” — referring, for example, to a �woman who is blind,� rather than to “a blind woman” – is a form of political correctness designed to further the aims of the social model by removing attitudinal barriers.Some people with disabilities support the Person First Movement, while others do not. People who are Deaf in particular may see themselves as members of a specific community, properly called the Deaf culture, and so will reject efforts designed to distance them from the central fact of their identity.A human rights based approach has been adopted by many organizations of and for disabled people. In 2000, for example, the United Nations Assembly decided to start working on a comprehensive convention for the rights of disabled people.
The social model of disability is a reaction to the dominant medical model of disability which in itself is a Cartesian functional analysis of the body as machine to be fixed in order to conform with normative values. The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) that mean society is the main contributory factor in disabling people. While physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychological variations, may cause individual functional limitation or impairments, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to take account of and include people regardless of their individual differences.