Overview of autism
There is a great deal of diversity on what autism is: a complex neurobiological condition, an illness, a gift, a personality type and more. Autism is a hard condition to describe as it covers such a wide range and the terminology of autism also can be bewildering.
Diagnosis and terminology has changed over the years. Today Autism, Asperger syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) together make up the autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Today the diagnosis of autism is given in South Africa only by a medical professional such as a GP or psychiatrist, or a psychologist (clinical, counselling or educational). This means that many professionals who work with children, such as teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists and others may not give a diagnosis, although their input may be invaluable.
Autism is not uncommon: it is estimated that nearly 1 in 68 births result in some form of autism (statistic from CDC, Atlanta, 2014). Autism is also 4 times more likely to be diagnosed in boys than girls, although it is not yet clear if this is due to increased diagnosis or other factors.
As it covers a wide spectrum of traits and behaviours it is difficult to describe to the layperson. Individuals with autism range from individuals with severe impairments, and who need extensive support for daily living, through to those who may not be obviously “autistic” to anyone except those close to them. The picture widens when autistic savants such as “Rainman” are considered (savants, by the way, are rare!).
Every individual with autism is just that: an individual, with unique characteristics.