Autism affects around one in 68 children in the United States, so the autism spectrum disorder (ADS) has become a major concern. Various government and non-profit organizations have put a lot of effort into spreading awareness and informing the public about these conditions. However what is often misunderstood, is that autism is more than just one disorder. There are many variants of symptoms and causes that can appear in different combinations. In addition to the countless fact sheets, several videos have cropped up on YouTube from the perspective of an autistic person, giving a first-hand glimpse into their everyday struggles.
What is important to understand about autism is that it is not a single disorder, but a spectrum, with varying degrees of symptoms. Within it lies the actual autistic disorder, causing problems with social interaction, communication, and interests in children less than three years old. However, the umbrella also includes asperger’s syndrome, where a language is not a problem (in fact, it can often be above average) but social problems and limited scope of interests prevail. There are also several other less known variants, such as childhood disintegrative disorder or Rett syndrome, where children begin developing normally but start losing their communication or social abilities later on. Everything else on the spectrum falls into the pervasive development disorder (PDD), or atypical autism.
The symptoms generally fall into three categories. Firstly, social interactions and relationships are affected, with difficulty maintaining eye-to-eye contact or adequate facial expressions. This could also include lack of empathy or failure to establish strong friendships with others of the same age. Secondly, communication skills can be impaired as well, ranging from struggles to initiate and maintain conversation all the way to inability to speak. Finally, the last category deals with limited interests or activities. Autistic children and adults often fall onto a repetitive routine and preoccupation with the same topic.
These three categories already paint a clear picture of autism as more than just one disorder. However there is also a number of secondary issues that could crop up. For example, many also suffer from unusual sensory perceptions; light touch could be felt as painful or a deep pressure could seem calming. Colors and sounds, as well, can seem very jarring. In some cases, a combination of these factors could lead to a sensory overload, where the person becomes too overwhelmed to focus or think clearly.
The complete causes of autism are not yet fully understand. A lot of research seems to indicate the disorder is caused by genetic predisposition, and susceptibility could be passed from parents to children. Environmental factors are also a potential culprit. The anti-vaccination movement has been claiming a link between vaccination and the disorder, though the theory has been heavily contested. Latest findings also suggest city pollution could play a role. In either case, the external factors could be negatively affecting the early development of the brain, resulting in the disorder.
Merely reading medical information might make it difficult to really imagine what living with this condition is like. Carly’s Café, a video released in May 2012, puts the viewer in the shoes of an autistic person thanks to the erratic filming style and audio-visual effects. However, since there is more than one disorder that falls into the autistic spectrum, it is worthwhile to look a bit deeper. Digging through YouTube reveals more first-hand videos, giving a glimpse into many examples and everyday struggles experienced by people who have autism.
By Jakub Kasztalski