Autism Spectrum may be defined as a constellation of neurodevelopmental conditions, defined by a broad range of symptoms that typically manifest around two years of age.
Autism is often characterised by:
- Difficulties in social communication and interaction
- Restricted/repetitive behavioural patterns
- Narrow fields of interest
- Deficits in cognitively processing emotional stimuli (i.e. language or facial expressions)
While some autistic individuals may also have delays/deficits to their cognitive and/or language-based abilities, as well as other overt symptoms (extreme non-verbality, aversion to eye contact, frequent motor mannerisms, etc.), this is not always the case as sometimes autistic ‘continuum’ accounts for more ‘high-functioning’ individuals (Asperger’s syndrome), who present subtle signs and lack any severe difficulties or deficits to their cognitive and/or language-based abilities.
It is important to understand that autism is not a disease. There is no ‘cure’ for autism, nor should there be a need for one. One of the more obvious indicators of the autism spectrum is related to their difficulties with empathy. In particular, their ‘cognitive’ empathy (i.e. Theory of Mind) is often below average, and this means that the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of other people (and sometimes themselves) are very difficult to perceive or understand. Recognising symptoms of autism in early childhood can be very beneficial. Supporting the child’s social development, communication skills, and behavioural engagement early can ultimately improve quality of life for the child and caregiver alike.