Understanding Autism


Nicole Long

Illustrated by Nicole Long

Nicole Long, Opinion Section Editor/Staff Writer

Autism may seem like a mysterious disease to those who may not know the background of it, but there is more to it than just peculiarity. Autism is a diverse group of complex developmental disorders, also known as autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs. Some of these disorders include: Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger Syndrome. In accordance to Autism Speaks, “Autism’s most-obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age.” Although, some developmental delays can be identified and addressed even earlier.

Autism, according to Parizad Bilimoria, of Boston Children’s Hospital, “…is defined at the behavioral level…” This level has three distinctive features: impaired social interaction, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors. Some of the behaviors associated with these features involve difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; complications with executive functioning; limited attentiveness; and sensory sensitivities. Such behaviors come from the maturity of the four lobes of the Cerebrum in a brain.

The nervous system’s function is to process and interpret information throughout the body. However, those messages are only transferred through the body’s nerve cells. A message will start in the cell body of a neuron, and make its way down the axon to the receptors at the other end of the neuron. That message is carried using neurotransmitters that jump across the synapse – space between two neurons – to the receptors of another neuron. However, an autistic brain has a weak connection for the synapse. Therefore making messages difficult to travel through the body.

Researchers have found that there is no specific cause of autism, but it can, however, be caused by a combination of multiple factors under one of two categories: genes and environmental factors. Some possible examples of these factors include the parents’ age during conception, difficulties during pregnancy or delivery, illness or medication from the mother during pregnancy, or lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain while in the womb. Though there is no single cause of autism, doctors are able to detect and advise. As stated in the article “What is Autism?”, written by the Autism Society, “…increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports lead to significantly improved outcomes.”

Handling and caring for an autistic individual may carry some difficulty, so professionals recommend the best way to understand them is to have the parents or guardians learn the strengths and weaknesses of their autistic child, so they can work alongside them instead of behind. “We all pay attention better to the things that interest us,” says a representative of Autism Speaks, “so we become much more proficient at learning them. Understanding what is motivating to your child (all children are different) will be one of the keys to increasing their learning and their skills.” When caring for an autistic individual, make sure to take the necessary steps in order to properly help them.