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What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

The causes of autism are still being investigated. There is strong evidence, however, to suggest that autism can be caused by a variety of physical factors, all of which affect brain development - it is not due to emotional deprivation or the way a person has been brought up.  There is also evidence to suggest that genetic factors are responsible for some forms of autism.

There is no known 'cure' for autism. Nevertheless, much can be achieved to make life less challenging for people with autism, with appropriate education and support.

It is particularly important to realise that an intervention which works well with one individual may not be appropriate or effective with another.

The symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations. Both children and adults can exhibit any combination of autistic behaviours in varying degrees of severity . This means that two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.

Contrary to what many people imagine, however, some children and adults with autism may make eye contact, show affection, smile and laugh, and demonstrate a variety of other emotions. Some go on to hold down responsible employment, have relationships with others, marry and raise children. Like anyone else, people with autism respond to their environment in both positive and negative ways and change as they mature. Many people with autism have an ability to focus on detail and may have good powers of concentration on a single activity provided it is of interest to them. This means they can often achieve a very high level of skill in a particular area. Children with autism can be especially good at learning facts, skills and talents. People with autism tend to be very honest and, if communication skills develop, will report things very accurately and openly.

What is Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language, which impacts on the following three areas:

  • social communication
  • social interaction
  • social imagination

People with Asperger syndrome do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties including dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

Find local help at The Autism Organisation Zimbabwe