Autism is now seen to be a Spectrum Disorder (ie it can present in many different ways). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined as a developmental disorder characterized by a variety of abnormalities in social functioning which also affects the development of communication and language, and leads to unusual behaviours and interests.
Children with ASD experience profound difficulties in relating to people, even when they have average or above average intelligence. From a young age , they show deficits in many skills that are crucial to early social development such as eye contact, awareness of being called or addressed, imitation, sharing focus of attention with others, orienting to social stimuli and body language, understanding the emotions of other and engaging in make belief play.
This leads to communication impairments:
Children with ASD display serious abnormalities in communication and language which appear in early childhood and persist. As many as half of these children do not develop useful, communicative language, though some begin to speak and then may regress, usually between 12 and 30 months. Some may master the form of language and speak well, but not use it effectively for social communication. Many are left to rely on primitive forms of communication such as pulling mother’s hand to a desired object, or making incoherent statements which are out of context and inappropriate. Those who have mastered spoken language will only use it to make request or talk repetitively about their chosen topics, showing little understanding of the social aspects of conversation.
Children with ASD display serious abnormalities in language and communication that appear in early childhood and persist. In terms of abnormalities in language, as many as one-half of all children with autism do not develop useful language, including some children who begin to speak and then regress in their speech development, usually between 12 and 30 months. In terms of abnormalities in communication, children with autism tend to rely on primitive forms of communication, such as pulling their mother’s hand in a desired direction to bring them an orange or to open a box . One of most obvious abnormalities in communication is their lack of social conversation/failure to use language for social interaction. Parents and teachers of children with autism describe their communication as nonsensical, silly, incoherent, irrelevant and having little meaningful connection with the situation which they occur.
hildren with autism often display narrow patterns of interests that include repetitive behaviors or stereotyped body movements. They seem driven to engage in, and maintain, these behaviors. Some examples of stereotyped movements include rocking and flapping of arms. In addition, children with autism also show self stimulatory behaviors. Some examples include staring at lights, rocking, or smelling objects. Repetitive play, rituals and narrow interests, often to level of obsession are also common.
Relying on excessive interest in sensations does not lead to development. However developing a specialized interest in some area or activity which is functional can be shaped into occupational opportunities later, such as work with computers, mechanics or music to name a few.