What is autism?

Fondazione bambini e autismo > What is autism?

When we talk about autism, we are faced with a group of neurobiological disorders more correctly defined Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) whose symptoms occur early and persist throughout the course of life.

What are the typical characteristics of people with autism?

Despite the different clinical manifestations with which they occur, the typical characteristics of ASDs can be summarized as follows:

  1. Deficits in communication and social interaction
  2. Restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests.

(DSM-5, 2013)

Alongside these basic symptoms, people with autism can also present to a greater or lesser extent sensory disturbances, sleep and nutrition problems, motor disharmony, disharmony in cognitive abilities, lack of personal and social autonomy, self-harm, aggression. Absent or strongly compromised in autism is the innate patrimony of abilities with which every human being, wherever he is and beyond any ethnic and cultural difference, is able to get in touch with others, to intuit their needs, states of mind , expectations. Many highly functioning autistic people, that is, with an intellectual and linguistic level that allows them to tell about their autism, have defined themselves as “extraterrestrials”, precisely because of the sense of alienation and disorientation that the world based on neuro-typicality causes in them.

This lack of intuition, not only about to the social world but also the succession of events, makes it difficult for autistic people to collaborate and have initiative in everyday life and above all to endure routine changes and unexpected events; for the same reason they can get into a crisis due to waiting or having to wait their turn or other similar situations.

Sensory stimuli are also processed by people with autism in a different way than the typical neuro population. An alarm, an object “out of place” can lead them to a crisis of agitation; an excited tone of speech, a noise that is even completely bearable for us, can lead them to plug their ears, to escape to another place or to give rise to motor or verbal stereotypes.

Verbal language is not always present and even when it is, its use can be bizarre or apparently meaningless. Difficulties can arise both at the production level, but also and above all at the level of understanding, and therefore even people with autism who express themselves very well sometimes may not understand the meaning of what is said to them, especially if a rich language is used. of nuances, metaphors, irony, etc. For the same reasons they may not understand questions containing the “why?”, to which it is possible that they respond in an inappropriate way or with the repetition of the question itself.

In about 70% of cases, autism is also accompanied by other psychiatric and neurobiological disorders.

How many people with autism are there?

The prevalence is far from rare: the most recent data (2020) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemiology Program Office reports about 1 in 33 8-year-old children have been identified with ASD, approximately 4% of boys and 1% of girls ( CDC, March 24, 2023 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/72/ss/ss7202a1.htm?s_cid=ss7202a1_w)

What can be done for people with autism?

It is important to keep in mind that when we talk about autism we still too often focus only on the individual, neglecting the repercussions that this condition has on the proximal systems: the family, the school, and more generally the community.

Anyone who revolves around the person with autism is called to provide superior care, in quantity and time, to what is normally dedicated to a typical neuro person, sometimes with the risk of receiving relational and emotional frustration and social isolation in return. This is why an approach that is not limited to spot interventions is important, but that implements a global care that takes into consideration all the people and resources that revolve around the autistic person.

If it is true that autism cannot be cured, it is also true that an early, global, evidence-based intervention and, nevertheless, respectful of the person, his desires and his specificities, makes the difference and allows significant improvements and an increase in the level of quality of life of those affected, of their family unit, and of the other systems to which they belong.

Autism is a condition that brings with it difficulties, more or less severe, but it is also a different way of looking at things, a great educational, human, and inclusion challenge.

A condition for which the participation of all becomes a necessity and a creative stimulus together. Because there are so many ways of being, and so many different intelligences, and the world needs all of them.

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