What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. Autism is a spectrum disorder and it affects each individual differently and at varying degrees.

What are the most common characteristics of autism?

Every person with autism is an individual, and like all individuals, has a unique personality and combination of characteristics. Some individuals mildly affected may exhibit only slight delays in language and greater challenges with social interactions. They may have difficulty initiating and/or maintaining a conversation. Their communication is often described as talking at others instead of to them. (For example, a monologue on a favorite subject that continues despite attempts by others to interject comments).
People with autism also process and respond to information in unique ways. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present. Persons with autism may also exhibit some of the following traits:

•    Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
•    Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or pointing instead of words
•    Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
•    Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason; showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
•    Preference to being alone; aloof manner
•    Tantrums
•    Difficulty in mixing with others
•    Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled
•    Little or no eye contact
•    Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
•    Sustained odd play
•    Spinning objects
•    Obsessive attachment to objects
•    Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
•    No real fears of danger
•    Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
•    Uneven gross/fine motor skills
•    Non-responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf, although hearing tests in normal range

(From the Autism Society of America website: