Saturday, July 29, 2006

what Autism is

Before Autism affected us, my impression was that Autism was an unresponsive kid rocking in a corner with no hope of a normal life outside of some type of miracle. Wow, what a naive, uneducated person I was!

From my understanding of the most current research, here's what we know (or at least what I believe we know) about Autism:

First, there's some controversy about what to call it. The PC term seems to be Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Before that term became popular, everything seemed to get lumped under a general Pervasive Developmental Disorder category (PDD). In both cases, some folks like to break it down further into exact diagnosis categories -- Asperger's Syndrome, PDD-NOS, High Functioning Autism, Kanner's Autism, etc. Personally, I just prefer the term Autism, because there are deficits that are common to all the categories, so challenges that we all face together regardless of our kids' specific diagnosis. Autism is simple to say, simple to remember, and gets to the point -- this is a significant thing that greatly impacts our child's life.

Autism is the result of connectivity problems in the brain (caused by some sort of neurological compromise that occurs prior to 18 months of age, not neccessarily any one particular reason as there seems to be many different causes). It seems that there are too many "local" connections and not enough "long distance" connections, so while the brain communicates in it's own areas, it has problem communicating between areas. And because neurons, which make up these connections, develop as the child develops, once development starts going off in a different direction, the connections aren't apt to just fix themsleves, they are apt to just keep developing in the new direction. (The good news is that they DO keep developing, throughout life, so if you can force that development back onto the right path and keep them there, you can grow the connections in the right direction too. But I'm getting WAYYY ahead of myself and will talk plenty about that sort of thing when I start talking about remediation.)

There are lots of different severities and "affectedness" of Autism, which may be linked to how early the child has whatever neurological event that caused development to start going astray. (Some kids are Autistic at birth, some develop Autism as they progress thru their infancy and toddlerhood.) That's why it's refered to as a "Spectrum Disorder". Some people like to break it down into "high functioning" and "low functioning", but research has shown that the severity of the Autism has no bearing on the projected outcome for that child. So I think categorizing it like that is only useful for people who want to believe that there are other kids worse off than theirs. Or the reverse, folks that want to think they've got a bigger struggle than everyone else. I personally believe that we've all got a lot of work to do, and that there are more similarities between our kids than there are differences. But that's hard for a lot of people to see, especially when at one end of the spectrum you've got a highly verbal child spouting off math facts while at the other end you've got a kid without any spoken words banging his head into a wall. It's not until you really understand what Autism is that you see that these two kids have a lot more in common than it appears.

Research also defines the "core deficits" (those deficits that all people with Autism have) for us. These deficits are all lumped under the "umbrella" term of "Intersubjectivity" -- in other words, the entire relationship dynamic between two people, how they relate and interact with each other, and how that affects the way they each percieve and interact with the environment. Here are the resulting core deficits as they are currently identified:

1. Appraisal -- the ability to identify and seek out the important information in any given situation. People with Autism tend to use the same appraisal in every situation rather than varying it as appropriate to the situation.

2. Episodic Memory -- a person's autobiographical memory where they connect their emotional memory, their semantic memory (pieces of data), and their subjective experience. This is how people learn from past experiences, how they build confidence and competence. People with Autism tend to have good semantic memory, but the inability to connect the pieces to emotional memory and subjective experience to make it useful to them in this way.

3. Experience Sharing -- the sharing of mental representations for the primary purpose of communicating and connecting with other humans. People with Autism often lack the motivation to communicate with others due to their deficits in this area. This includes body language and other non-verbal communication as well as spoken language.

4. Creative Thinking -- the ability to integrate information from different sources and situations and formulate best-fit solutions to real-life problems. People with Autism tend to think in black and white (right and wrong) rather than in shades of gray. Their thinking is not flexible enough to make the small adjustments needed in everyday functioning in the real world.

5. Self Awareness -- the understanding of who we are, what our preferences are, and how our emotions and actions impact others. Posted by Picasa


At 8:46 AM, Blogger Pepze said...

I admire you will to write about it, not everybody wanna talk about.
I know what means to stay near an authistic boy, I had experience in past.
Sure you are a mom and I never could try and feel your experience at all.
It's hard, but also full of happy and funny things.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Armen said...

But Autims in young children and especiall in the preschoolers is a different matter. Study Explains Crucial Deficit In Children With Autism. Young children with autism lag behind peers in distinguishing between animate, inanimate objects. The research is from the Carnegie Mellon University and appears at


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