Defining Autism

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Autism has come a long way from the early 1980s when it was rarely diagnosed to today
where 100 out 10,000 kids are diagnosed. Autism is defined as a developmental disorder that
affects communication and behavior (NIMH 2018). There are many aspects surrounding Autism
and the underlying effects that play a role in Autism. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, people with Autism have “Difficulty with communication and
interaction with other people Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors Symptoms that hurt the
person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life” (DSMM). Due to its
wide variation Autism is known as a spectrum disorder” (NIMH 2018). People diagnosed with
the disorder don’t all carry the same exact signs and symptoms. In this paper, I would like to
discuss the evolution of Autism, The signs, and symptoms of Autism, and the Culture
surrounding Autism as well as conclude with some assistive technologies implemented into the

Autism was first discovered in 1911 by Eugen Bleuler who used the word to describe a
symptom of Schizophrenia (History of Autism). This became a research tool used to look further
into people with social and emotional limitations and in the 1940s the idea behind Autism
changed from one of a schizophrenic disorder to one of social and emotional disorder (Bovet,
Parnas, & Zahavi, 2002). The development of Autism was not quite pinned down to one or two
contributing factors but a plethora of them. “Bleuler considered autism as a pathognomonic
feature, specifying the extension of the spectrum concept of the time (i.e., including the schizoid
and ‘latent’ cases”. (Bovet, Parnas, & Zahavi, 2002). Bleuler often used the term in the early
1900s Autism to actually define a self- absorbed schizophrenic patient these patients often
became neglected and were sent away to asylums. The patients were viewed as burdens to
society (Raiti 2014).

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In 1943 a child Psychiatrist known as Leo Kanner published a paper where
he observed 11 children and made many observations of these kids. He stated that they were
intelligent and had a great memory but lacked social communication and struggled with changes
as well as being overly sensitive to stimuli. (Kanner, 1943). Kanner states that Autism was a lack
of maternal warmth. Autism began to be more and more studied in the 1970s. The research done
around this time suggested that genetics played a key role Autism as well as the mothers
pregnancy (Sensory-based theories, n.d). Another article suggests that “both mother and baby
contribute to the unfolding of a normal pregnancy, and if the baby has a developmental issue like
ASD, it is more likely some aspect of the pregnancy or birth will be less than ideal.” (Bolton,
Macdonald,Murphy, Pickles, Rutter, Whitlock). Autism in the mid-’70s led to IDEA (Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act) and IEP (Individualized education program) a document
designed to help each individual child succeed and meet their own goals through this document.

In 1972 Eric Shopler developed TEACHH which was a method for students with autism to focus
on five basic standards. Those are the physical structure, scheduling, work system, routine and
visual structure. These five basic principles will help the child develop life skills that will remain
with them throughout life. In the 90s autism was added as a category under IDEA. This gave
way to students now able to obtain the same education as their peers. Later on in the 90s, the
Asperger aspect of Autism was removed from the category and under its own disorder. In the
mid-90s a group filled with parents, teachers, and doctors open an organization to raise
awareness for autism. Today one out of every 59 students are diagnosed with autism (Autism
speaks 2018). That is 1 in 39 boys and 1 in 131 girls. With further research, we can continue to
build a foundation of knowledge and awareness for autism and the effects it has on our children.

What are the signs and symptoms of autism? According to Autism Speaks signs can
appear as early as two months in infants the signs vary by person to person but typically include
little to no smiling and no eye contact in the early ages. An article from Autism speaks (2018)
states that the signs and symptoms typically include

  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

So how is autism diagnosed? Autism is diagnosed by a professional medical doctor. Some
people without autism can show signs and symptoms of autism but not actually have it. As
autism rates seem to keep on skyrocketing it makes me question the infamous question of what
causes autism? At one point we thought vaccines caused autism and that has since been proven
wrong, according to a recent article “More than a dozen studies have tried to find a link. Each
one has come up empty.” (Bandari, 2018). So what causes autism? Relative to Autism Speaks
autism they state that “Research tells us that autism tends to run in families. Changes in certain
genes increase the risk that a child will develop autism. If a parent carries one or more of these
gene changes, they may get passed to a child (even if the parent does not have autism).” (Autism
Speaks 2018). They go on to say that there are other factors such as environmental risk for
patients who have been genetically predisposed to the disorder. There is no cure for autism but
there are some FDA approved medications for people with the disorder.

Currently, there are groups of people diagnosed with autism that want to normalize the
culture surrounding it as opposed to “curing it”. “Our central hypothesis, that autistic adults
would demonstrate greater awareness of scientific knowledge about autism and would describe
autism in less stigmatizing ways than non-autistic people, is grounded in growing evidence that
autistic people may often have enhanced understanding of fellow autistic individuals and resist
medical constructions of autism” (Kapp et al, 2013). Many adults and functioning autistic
children want to normalize the stigma of this disorder. Keeping an environment of welcoming
and bringing awareness to autism is a fight many parents are dealing with now. “Autistic people
who have developed heightened understanding of autism may be particularly well suited to teach
other people about autism, as they tend to endorse less stigmatizing conceptions of autism, have
reduced interest in making autistic people appear more normal, and may often have heightened
empathy for the challenges others face” (Komeda, 2015). Some parents have been in denial
about the diagnosis of their child. Others, don’t want a label slapped on their kid and pushed out
the door. “Here they articulated the position that it is societal changes that have produced the
categorization of their children’s behavior as a disability.” (Brahm & Russel, 2012). The label
put on a child can have a critical and crucial impact on how that child is perceived in school by
their teacher and peers. “parents of undiagnosed children were unlikely to discuss their children’s
behavioral problems with even their closest friends and families. A major concern was protecting
their children from an unwanted autistic identity.” (Brahm & Russel, 2012). As we close up this
last part of the paper, and throughout my research, over the past couple of weeks I have found
that there are mixed feelings between parents and their child’s diagnosis of ASD.

As we close up this paper I want to reflect on a few things such as the continued research
we have with autism. The assistive tools and technologies that we can incorporate into the
classroom such as charts, monitors and videos that can play a crucial role in the child’s
development and structure giving them a fair and equal chance of being placed with their peers.
As each child is different we must continue to build a community of openness and welcoming to
each child and their needs. The importance of these in our classroom is vital to every child’s
learning differences. Building upon assistive tools within the class can help each and every
student to achieve and have the best opportunities to do so. Starting with the teachers we must
want to see the changes and improvements in our classrooms.


Autism Speaks (2018) What Causes Autism retrieved from


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Defining Autism. (2020, Feb 21). Retrieved from