Scientists first gave it a name in 1910, but symptoms of autism were described in children long before the condition was named. This is a disorder that is in some way linked to heredity, but scientists have not yet found how it is passed on. Approximately one in one hundred and fifty children are diagnosed with Autism and it is most commonly diagnosed in the toddler years. Although progress is being made in diagnosis and treatment of Autism, there is currently no cure for it. It is a diagnosis that devastates parents when they receive it.
Even though it is not a terminal illness, it is a diagnosis that tells parents their children will forever have difficulty fitting into the world. Autistic children do not adapt well to society and have difficulty communicating with others and relating to the world around them throughout their lives. The symptoms of Autism begin to show in infancy with children who make less eye contact and interaction. As toddlers, the children do not use gestures for communication or pay as much attention to others as average children do.
Almost all autistic children show some area of talent or genius, but many can not develop the talent due to an inability to effectively communicate and some are taken advantage of by other people. Autistic children once were referred to as idiot savants. 2 Even though they are considered retarded in most areas of development, most of them have one area in which they excel. For many Autistics this area is either an art form or mathematics. Many studies have been conducted on this strange phenomenon, because people find it amazing.
These people who shut themselves in their own worlds and rarely communicate can somehow hold amazing talent or a wealth of knowledge that average people can only imagine. The ability to recall and manipulate numbers without a real understanding of how mathematics works is one of the most fascinating talents demonstrated by autistic people. This was the topic of the study written about by Oliver Sacks. His study involved a set of twenty-six year old twins in 1966. They had been on television and made to perform for people to demonstrate their mathematical talent..
They could have someone name a calendar date within an eighty thousand year range and the twins could state what day of the week that date would fall on. Additionally they could count match sticks as they fell to the table or floor, tell prime numbers into large digits, and repeat.
They however were considered severely handicapped, because of their behaviors and inability to adapt to average society. 3 Oliver Sacks worked with a number of people with disabilities throughout his amazing career, for the simple fact that he liked to see how he could improve their lives. He was one of the first people to identify strangeness as a form of genius and was dedicated to helping people bring out their hidden genius. Many autistic children until the recent past spent the biggest portion of their lives in institutions, because once a diagnosis was made institutionalization was recommended by most doctors.
Parents were told that the children would have difficulty communicating if they ever learned to talk at all and that the children would not bond well with family or adapt to society. Due to the disorder’s effects on the brain, autistic children rarely appear to even notice the presence of other people in the room. They are very routine oriented and perform ritualistic behavior such as rocking back and forth. When someone interrupts the routines or behaviors, the result is often aggressive behavior or some sort of tantrum.
Because of these behaviors, most doctors told parents the autistic children would be better cared for in institutions, especially since they had no awareness or concern for others. Because of the institutionalization, many of these children were not given an opportunity to develop the talents they had in music art or mathematics. Due to an inability to express their thoughts and concerns to others, they were simply dismissed as worthless and not given the chance to demonstrate their uniqueness. Once the autistic person’s talents are discovered, they are sometimes taken advantage of under the guise of friendship.
The 1988 movie “Rainman” is a perfect example of this. In the movie, Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic man, whose brother discovers his amazing ability with numbers. The brother (Tom Cruise) pretends to care for his autistic brother in order to take him gambling for his own monetary gain. 4 Fortunately in the movie the brothers do develop an actual bond, but in many real-life cases, the autistic person is used as a pawn for someone else’s gain with little regard or concern for the effect it has on the person with autism.
These people may be well cared for and do not spend their lives in institutions, but if they are simply used to help others win money or gain fame, they are not being given the recognition they deserve for themselves. The movie “Rainman”, although it showed how Autistic people can be taken advantage of, helped people develop an interest in learning more about the disorder that they may not have even heard of before. This is due to something defined as The Tipping Point. 5 The Tipping Point is a term used to describe the ways in which fads, diseases or popular ideas spread.
Since many people saw the movie and were amazed at how well Dustin Hoffman portrayed the autistic man, autism became a much more well known syndrome and most people in the general public have become much more aware of what it is. People are more inclined to try to keep autistic children at home partially because more research has been conducted since the release of the movie into causes and treatment for the disorder. Due to the increased research on the subject, scientists and therapists are constantly learning more about the disorder and how to treat it.
Research shows that people with autism do not completely shut out the world and are capable of bonding with caregivers; it simply requires more time and patience. It is not that autistic children do not want to develop relationships, they simply do not know how and they have difficulty understanding words and signs that other people use. Most people seem to innately understand what a hug means, while autistic children need to be taught that a hug is a sign of affection. Research has taught parents that autistic children need very set routines and these routines must be followed in order for the child to function well.
Autistic children become confused and frustrated, when they do not know what to do and they do not know what to do any time a routine is deviated from. If this must occur the person needs to be prepared well in advance to avoid any unpleasant reactions. While teaching autistic people to function successfully in a society of people who do not fully understand them, it is important for them to be encouraged to develop their area of genius. They have rare talents and they need to be proud of these talents. They should not be used as side shows, comical entertainment or a way to win at gambling.
Most autistics have amazing talents that can be developed into careers. The artists should be encouraged to display works, the musician should develop this talent and possibly perform and the mathematician should be encouraged to work with numbers. Most of the numerical abilities are very specific to numerical recall or other areas, which limits the jobs to statistician or census taker types of jobs, while still allowing the person to be productive. Although Autism can be a devastating diagnosis for a parent to hear, it is becoming less devastating, partially due to the popularity of the movie “Rainman” and the research before and after it.
People are learning that many people with Autism can function fairly well in society if they are given enough time and patience and are taught how to respond to the actions, gestures and word of other people. People with Autism can learn to bond with others and can be very productive if they are given the opportunities to develop their talents and abilities. The symptoms of the disorder have been recorded for centuries, but until the release of a movie that became very popular in American culture few people understood or cared about the fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking disorder that over a million people live with on a daily basis.It has become more well known, the people have become better understood and they have the hope of much brighter futures ahead of them.
“Autism Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and More”, WebMD. (2008). Retrieved February 9, 2008 from: Mental Health: Autism Gladwell, Malcom. “The Tipping Point” (2000). Little Brown/United States. “Rainman” (1988), MGM Studios. Sacks, Oliver, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”. (1985), Thouchstone/ New York, New York. Wikipedia, (2008) Retrieved February 10, 2008, from: Autistic savant – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia