Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, a category of disorders that results in children being unable to develop certain basic functions of life, notably social skills and communication. While those unfamiliar with autism have certain generalized expectations, autism is not fully understood by those who do not deal with it daily.
Children with autism do not learn the same basic skills others do, or take much longer to learn them. For example, studies show that babies begin reading faces and cluing in on emotional cues in the first few months of their lives. Children with autism tend not to notice these cues, sometimes for several years. Because of this, cues that we take for granted—a smile or frown, a pointing finger, a mother’s hands-on-hips—are just background noise for autistic children who have not learned the importance of these symbols. It is not that they do not see them—they do not realize the meaning attached to them.
Children who are afflicted with the above delays in development also have difficulty recognizing language and the meanings of words. They have a hard time connecting the spoken sound with the ideas they are meant to represent. When they begin making language-related sounds on their own, these children are often repeating random sounds they heard, resulting in a mixed up speech that has no meaning. Even when autistic children begin to develop useful language, they still have a hard time realizing that certain emotional cues or vocal responses are in response to their own actions and/or require a response of them. This often leads to fewer attempts to speak overall due to a perceived lack of reaction.
In addition to delayed social and communicative development, autistic children sometimes tend to repeat certain actions repeatedly. In some cases, this behavior exhibits many of the same actions found in obsessive-compulsive disorders, such as common rituals that must be observed to completion or unconscious repeated gestures or behaviors. Autistic children will often resist deviance from their established norms, and need to have things just right.
You can help improve the lives of those with autism and other autism spectrum disorders. Donate to a fund or purchase special autism products from an outlet that donates proceeds to research. There is currently no known cure for autism, but together, we can keep looking while improving access to health resources for those afflicted today.