Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that causes problems with social interaction, language development and communication skills. There are varying degrees of autism, mostly categorized into three different challenges: Communication, Restrictive or repetitive behaviors and Social interactions.

Recent research has identified some mutations or genes that cause autism.While a small number of these mutations or genes actually cause autism themselves; the combination of these genes with environmental factors during early brain development is often the culprit.

Early autism symptoms can be observed during a child’s first 3 years. Individuals with autism often have trouble communicating with limited or no speech, repetitive speech or speech that relates to one topic. This coupled with limited or no eye contact leads to difficulties in understanding language, gestures and cues, and restricts social interaction. Moreover, autistic children have repetitive body movements such as hand flapping, pacing and rocking. Autistic individuals have cognitive impairment and difficulties in motor coordination; however some do excel in visual skills, music, math and art.

Pediatricians observe the following symptoms when diagnosing autism:

• Significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions, and body posture.
• Failure to establish friendships with children the same age.
• Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests or achievements with other people.
• Lack of empathy.
• Delay in or lack of speech. As many as 40% of people with autism never speak.1
• Problems starting a conversation.
• Unusual focusing.
• A need for structured routines. For example, a child with autism may always need to eat bread before salad and insist on driving the same route every day to school.

Some tips to improve communication when interacting with autistic individuals are: speaking calmly, using direct and concrete phrases, allowing extra time for responses, and simple instructions.
autism comic

Adapted from:

Written By Dara Rashwan and Austen Goddu