Autism

?We start with an image?a tiny, golden child on hands and knees, circling round and round a spot on the floor in mysterious, self-absorbed delight. She does not look up, though she is smiling and laughing; she does not call our attention to the mysterious object of her pleasure. She does not see us at all. She and the spot are all there is, and though she is eighteen months old, an age for touching, tasting, pointing, pushing, exploring, she is doing none of these. She does not walk, or crawl up stairs, or pull herself to her feet to reach for objects. She doesn't want any objects. Instead, she circles her spot. Or she sits, a long chain in her hand, snaking it up and down, up and down, watching it coil and uncoil, for twenty minutes, half an hour--- until someone comes, moves her or feeds her or gives her another toy, or perhaps a book.?
Excerpted from ?The Seige?
By Clara Claiborne Park
Autism??a mysterious world where the unknowns still outnumber the knowns. A syndrome whose manifestations are many and whose etiology is suspected of being multi-causal? (Toscano, 5).
?The word autism still conveys a fixed and dreadful meaning to most people?they visualize a child mute, rocking, screaming, inaccessible, cut off from human contact. And we almost always speak of autistic children, rarely of autistic adults, as if such children never grew up, or were somehow mysteriously spirited off the planet, out of society. Or else we think of an autistic ?savant? a strange being with bizarre mannerisms and stereotypies, still cut off from normal life, but with uncanny powers of calculation, memory, drawing, whatever?like the savant portrayed in Rain Man. These pictures are not wholly false, but they fail to indicate that there are forms of autism which do not incapacitate in the same way, but may allow lives that are full of event and achievement, and a special sort of insight and courage too? (Grandin, 12).
Autism was first identified as a disorder in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner. It was widely accepted that a child's autistic condition was the result of extremely, cold distant, rejecting and overly intellectual parenting. The child's extreme withdrawal was viewed as a refusal to engage in social or physical contact, rather than inability. The assumption therefore was that the familial environment being hostile was the cause of the child's refusal to become engaged. Professionals labeled this concept ?the refrigerator mother?.
Today, much enlightened thinking, coupled with scientific research has disproved this notion and autism has been the source of much research and ongoing professional debate.
?Currently, autism is considered a unique disorder that occurs in approximately fifteen out of every 10,000 births. Autism is four times more common in boys than girls. It has been found throughout the world in families of all racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds? (Cash, 22). Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence.
Researchers all over the world are devoting considerable time, and energy into finding the answer to the critical question, ?What exactly causes autism?? Although a single specific cause of autism is not known, researchers believe several genes as well as environmental factors such as viruses or chemicals, contribute to the disorder. ?But finding the genes that cause the disorder has proven far more complicated than originally thought? (DeNoon). Scientists estimate that, in families with one autistic child, the risk of having a second child with the disorder is approximately 5%, or 1 in 20, which is greater than the risk for the general population. This genetic basis is believed by researchers to be highly complex, probably involving several genes in combination.
CLSA study co-author Susan Santangelo portrays autism as a constellation of deficits.
?Some may be relatively benign in the absence of others. I think it's relatively unlikely that any one gene will account for disease causation in any one subset of families. It's likely that more than one gene will be working in concert, although none of these genes themselves may be sufficient. Some of these genes may be causing milder effects in family members of these patients who are autistic. Some traits are much more frequent in family members? (DeNoon). Scientists also believe that since all people with autism do not have