Autism Spectrum Disorder – What It Really Means…
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is easily among the most misunderstood medical conditions affecting us today. More often than not, people with autism are considered ‘retarded’ and ‘mentally challenged’, when fact is that people on the autism spectrum tend to have either average or above average intelligence levels, and any diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition will have nothing whatsoever to do with how intelligent they are.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
People with ASD suffer from a lifelong disability that affects how they communicate. For instance, they may display poor eye contact, compulsive behaviour, repetitive movements, and excess interest in a certain area or attention deficit in others. They also find it difficult to relate to other people and often display a lack of empathy and extreme levels of anxiety. The severity of this disability in the spectrum determines their ability to live a normal life.
A fairly common condition in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD encompasses a number of clinically diagnosed conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome, Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified, Autistic disorder or Classic Autism and Childhood disintegrative disorder. Each of these conditions represent different intensities of symptoms and varying levels of disability. In simple terms, Autism refers to a range of such conditions characterized by challenges with social interactions, repetitive behaviours and communication.
ASD is still mistaken for mental retardation
The symptoms of deficiency in social interaction and communication has led to the creation of societal myths that people with ASD are mentally retarded or ill. The fact is that while some patients with ASD do have learning disabilities, these are often restricted.
For instance, people with ASD may have a different learning curve from others, but more often than not, they display exceptional intelligence, especially in areas of art, science or mathematics. Studies have shown that, while up to 70 per cent of people with autism have a learning disability, some individuals with the disorder can exhibit higher than average non-verbal intelligence. A few famous personalities who have battled autism successfully in the past are:
- Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokemon: Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Satoshi is known to be reclusive and eccentric. He has channelled his obsession with insects, animation and video games to create Pokemon.
- Michelangelo, the great artist: A report published in the Journal of Medical Biography has suggested that Michelangelo was a loner, was self-absorbed and gave his undivided attention to his masterpieces, displaying signs of Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Mozart, the great composer and musician: Multiple reports have been published about his obsession with inanimate objects. His repetitive movements, facial expressions and excessively-active hand movements have led to speculations that he may have suffered from a slightly more intense form of ASD.
- Charles Richter, who created the Richter Scale: A brilliant mind and keen observer, Richter was not considered unfriendly. However, he is often described as lacking in social skills and rumoured to have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Issac Newton, the physicist: Research states that Newton, who hated social contact, was so focused in his work that he often forgot to eat, and made minimal friends, also suffered from a form of ASD.
- Charles Darwin, responsible for the theory of evolution: Historians have widely referred to his avoidance of direct communication, unique focus and extraordinary attention to detail and difficulties with social interaction as a sign of Asperger’s Syndrome.
It is speculated that the same genes that are responsible for ASD also foster creativity and originality. Therefore, when individuals with ASD are provided adequate support, they often use their ability to focus and to see details that other people missed to perform tasks that often transform lives.