What is Autism
Autism is an extensive neurodevelopmental disorder that appears in the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Autism has two main underlying characteristics, where only the emergence of both will lead to a diagnosis:
1. Difficulty in interpersonal communication. In this area, there is a lack of emotional-social reciprocity, lack of nonverbal communication behaviors, and lack of development, preservation and understanding of social relationships among peers.
2. Difficulty with change and adherence to fixed and repetitive behavior patterns. This includes stereotyping or repetition expressed in motor motions, the use of objects or speech, rigid adherence to routines or repetitive patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior, limited or very fixed interests that are abnormal in their intensity and focus, over reactivity or sub-responsiveness to sensory input, or an exceptional interest in sensory aspects of the environment.
Autistic symptoms vary in their severity, and each of them should be seen on a continuum versus existence or non-existence. Thus, for example, communication difficulties may range from frequent avoidance to link to children who crave the relationship but act inappropriately because they find it difficult to read the intentions of others and understand complex social situations.
Similarly, difficulty with change may range from a complete inability to contain changes and displaying reactions of outbursts and tremendous distress in the face of change, to a relatively light difficulty that can be overcome through preparation and mediation. In addition, around repetitive behaviors the range would be from extensive repetitive preoccupation with objects or waving of hands and body parts, to a minor fraction of these behaviors.
It is not uncommon to meet children who continuously express little interest in their environment, but also children can be found who demonstrate that they can collect knowledge and expertise in specific and unique areas of interest.
The disorder appears from a young age and in early stages of development. Sometimes the disorder is less noticeable at a young age, since the environmental requirements of the child are still few, and is more clearly expressed as age increases.
For the purpose of diagnosis, the symptoms must lead to significant and extensive damage to the child’s adaptation and development in all areas of life, that cannot be explained by another disorder, such as mental impairment, a medical condition, or other developmental disorders.
The diagnosis of autism is performed by a neurologist and a clinical/developmental psychologist. A pediatrician may refer to the Child Development Institute for diagnosis or to other diagnostic institutions in hospitals, designated centers, or privately.
The proportion of children with autism in the population has increased in recent decades, and currently stands at about 1:70 children. The cause of the growing percentage of children with autism is unknown. As parents, educators, and therapists, we have a great challenge ahead of us to build methods of treatment and learning, and to develop appropriate educational and therapeutic frameworks that can help children advance and in order to support them and their families.
Children with autism differ from one another just as ordinary children: in their cognitive abilities, talents, difficulties, temperament, character, motivation, and disposition. Every child with autism is first and foremost an individual, a person with a unique personality and an inner world that one must be familiar with in order to discover the most appropriate way to help the child further develop and progress.
Many studies demonstrate that intensive, integrative, multi-professional interventions that begin from the earliest possible age enable considerable progress and substantial developmental achievements.
Therapeutic work based on listening attentively and carefully to the child and their family, understanding the unique array of their challenges as well as their talents, and understanding the factors that delay or promote communication and development for them, leads over time to realizing the potential of each child to take part in their surroundings and society.
People with autism can and are entitled to receive all the support that will allow them to cope with diverse challenges, to find their place in society, and to gain quality of life for themselves and their families, mental well-being and self-fulfillment.