Autism is a developmental disorder that appears during the first three years of life of a child and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It is characterized by a certain set of behaviors and is not to be confused with mental retardation at all. It is a “spectrum disorder” that affects people differently and to varying degrees. Some people have no language, intellectual difficulties and do not engage with others. Other people on the autism spectrum (such as those with Aspergers Syndrome) may have very good or even advanced language skills but find the rules governing social behaviour hard to fathom.
People with autism find it difficult to understand everyday concepts of danger. For example, they will repeatedly touch a hot object despite getting burnt. They can pick up speech but are not necessarily able to communicate. They may repeat phrases and speak about certain subjects that catch their fancy, but will not be able to communicate to another person what they need or feel. Even certain non-verbal forms like pointing or nodding elude them.
Physically they tend toward repetitive actions like hand flapping, rocking back and forth, spinning in circles, staring at spinning objects for long periods of time and arranging things in neat rows. People with autism are prone to severe temper tantrums which can result in inflicting physical harm to themselves. Whilst they would like to form relationships, many autistic adults are unable to do so as they lack social skills. As children they have no problem relating with adults but seem to have problems interacting with children their own age. Autistic adults can display exceptional abilities for their age in certain areas like music, memory or solving puzzles.
With love and care from those who surround them, and with advice and inputs from experts, autistic people can be helped to lead as normal a life as anyone else within their environments. As they are blissfully unaware of their own autism, it is up to each and every one of us to make the effort towards helping them toward balance and normalcy.