Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder involves impairment in several areas of development, which includes social interactions, communication with others, and everyday behaviors, interests, and activities.

Richard, a child with autism, shows a range of deficits characteristic of this disorder.

“Richard, aged 3½ years, appeared to be aloof from others. He did not greet his mother in the morning nor his father when he returned from work, and when left with a baby-sitter, he would scream much of the time. He had no interest in other children and ignored his younger brother. His babbling had no conversational intonation. At age 3 he could understand simple practical instructions. His speech consisted of echoing some words and phrases he had heard in the past, with the original speaker’s accent and intonation; he would use one or two such phrases to indicate his simple needs. For example, if he said, “Do you want a drink?” he meant he was thirsty. He did not communicate by facial expression nor use gesture nor mime, except for pulling someone along with him and placing his or her hand on an object he wanted. He was fascinated by bright lights and spinning objects and would stare at them while laughing, flapping his hands, and dancing on tiptoe. He was intensely attached to a miniature car, which he held in his hand, day and night, but he never played imaginatively with this or any other toy. From age 2 he had collected kitchen utensils and arranged them in repetitive patterns all over the floor of the house. These pursuits, together with occasional periods of aimless running around, constituted his whole repertoire of spontaneous activities.

The major management problem was Richard’s intense resistance to any attempt to change or extend his interests. Removing his toy car, even retrieving, for example, an egg whisk or a spoon for its legitimate use in cooking or trying to make him look at a picture book, precipitated temper tantrums that could last an hour or more, with screaming, kicking, and biting himself or others. These tantrums could be cut short by restoring the status quo. Psychological testing gave Richard a mental age of 3 years in non-language-dependent skills (such as assembling objects) but only 18 months in language comprehension”. 

Let us analyse the case of Richard that shows a range of deficits attributed to this disorder.

Autism involves three types of deficits. The first type is deficits in social interaction, such as lack of interaction with family members. As infants, children with autism may not smile and coo in response to their caregivers or initiate play with their caregivers, the way most young infants do. They may not want to cuddle their parents, even when they are frightened. Whereas most infants love to gaze at their caregivers as the caregivers gaze adoringly at them, infants with autism may hardly ever make eye contact. When they are a bit older, children with autism may not be interested in playing with other children, and may prefer to remain in solitary play. They also do not seem to react to other people’s emotions.

The second type of deficit in autism involves communication. Approximately 50 percent of children with autism do not develop useful speech. Those who do develop language may not use it as other children do. In the above mentioned case, Richard showed several of the communication problems of children with autism. Rather than generating his own words, he simply echoed what he had just heard, a phenomenon called echolalia. He reversed pronouns, using “you” when he meant “I”.  When he did try to generate his own words or sentences, he did not modulate his voice for expressiveness, instead sounded almost like a voice generating machine.

The third type of deficit involves activities and interests of children with autism. Rather than engaging in symbolic play with toys, they are preoccupied with one part of a toy or an object, as Richard was preoccupied with his miniature car. They may engage in bizarre, repetitive behaviors with toys.

Routines and rituals often are extremely important to children with autism. When any aspect of the daily routine is changed—for example, if the mother stops at the bank on the way to school—they may fly into a rage. Some children perform stereotyped and repetitive behaviors using some parts of their body, such as incessantly flapping their hands or banging their head against the wall. These behaviors are referred to as self-stimulatory behaviors. 

Children with autism often do poorly on measures of intellectual ability, such as IQ tests, with 50 to 70 percent of children showing moderate to severe intellectual impairments (Sigman, Spence, & Wang, 2006). The deficits of some children with autism, however, are confined to skills that require language and understanding others’ point of view, and they may score in the average range on subtests that do not require language skills.

However, there are some autistic children who have above average intelligence and special talents such as the ability to play music without being taught or to draw extremely well, or exceptional memory and mathematical calculation ability as depicted in the movie “Rain Man“. The symptoms of autism have their onset before age three. 

Several studies have shown remarkable improvement in cognitive skills, intellectual and educational functioning and behavioral control in children with autism who were treated with a comprehensive behavior therapy administered both by their parents and in their school setting.

Published by smmenezes

Insights into a human mind. Having specialized in the field of Psychology, worked for MNC`s and presently lecturing, this website has been launched to serve as a platform where I can impart my practical knowledge along with theoretical concepts for the cognitive development of individuals.

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