Like many topics, autism is well represented on the Internet. A Google search for information on autism may not turn up as many sites as, say, one for “American Idol” but there is more than enough detail out there for anyone who needs to find it.
Descriptive Information on Autism
Autism is like good art. You may not be able to explain it, but you know it when you see it. There is general agreement that autism is a neurological condition that exhibits a developmental disability. According to the official medical definition, autism typically appears before the age of three – unless it doesn’t. If it appears later it’s called “atypical” autism. The possible symptoms and their severity differ from person to person; this is a general point of agreement. The symptoms are actually traits or behaviors and not physical symptoms at all; you cannot usually tell just by looking at someone that they are afflicted with the behavior, it is often seen in their actions.
To boil down the symptoms into a brief description, the behaviors are normal reactions to an unusual perception of the world. The nutshell version of information on autism is that autistic people process and respond to information in unique ways, including information from their five senses. Sensory integration impairment is a normal part of autism. It means that their senses may send conflicting messages (tastes good but smells bad) or messages that are more or less intense than would be received by a normal person.
Observable Information on Autism
So, if you were being bombarded by sensory information that was fighting for your attention, would you find it difficult to concentrate on the words being spoken to you? If the bright yellow wallpaper was screaming at you and the vacuum cleaner was shrieking and a big man was leaning towards your high chair saying “Da-Da” over and over would you calmly repeat the words or would you be somewhat afraid of this person who insanely ignores the horrible din? Perhaps the information on autism presented by the neurologically typical (“normal”) world is a bit one-sided.
That’s why autism is described by outward behavior, rather than physical symptoms. To the neurologically typical, someone with autism seems odd because of an inability to communicate. To the autistic person, the ordeal of communicating with people who are living in a strange and different world might seem too hard to attempt. To the neurologically typical, someone with autism seems odd because of a dislike for hugging and other touching.
To the autistic person, a hug brings overpowering sensory messages of possibly scratchy clothing, choking perfume, and warm flesh. Is the autistic child really supposed to interpret this as affection? This would be painful to the neurologically typical parents, of course. The gift of the Internet is that it brings this information on autism from the viewpoints of doctor, therapist, teacher, parent, and even from high functioning autistic people.