Treatment and Intervention Services
An introduction to Autism
Autism is characterised by severe and pervasive impairments in several important areas of development: reciprocal social interaction and communication as well as behaviour, and imagination. In order to be diagnosed with autism, the behavioural symptoms in all of the above-named areas must be present by age 3. Even if the parents often notice that something is
wrong during infancy, it is very difficult to diagnose autism before the age of eighteen months.
This is because the behavioural symptoms used to establish the diagnosis have not clearly
emerged developmentally until that age.
The majority of children with autism also have a learning disability (mental retardation),
although a few have average intelligence. Many also have epilepsy, and visual and hearing
impairment are over-represented in this group. Persons with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a
condition resembling autism, have average or above average intelligence.
Roughly estimated, 1 – 2 children per thousand have autism, which means that about one
hundred children are born with autism every year in Sweden. Autism and the other pervasive
developmental disorders (autistic-like conditions), or in other words the entire autism spec-
trum, adds up to at least 6 children in every thousand in Sweden. The same figures are seen in
other nations worldwide. Many more boys than girls have autism.
What causes autism?
Autism is a behaviourally-defined condition, but is caused by a number of different known
and unknown biologically based brain dysfunctions that affect the developing brain’s ability to
handle information. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. There is a genetic component
in many cases. The different way of processing information, such as perceiving, processing and
interpreting information, learning new things and behaving in a well-adapted way, leads to the
behavioural deviations that can be observed.
What can be done?
Autism is a life-long disability. There is currently no known cure for autism. On the other hand,
many children with autism can develop significantly with early, well-planned and individu-
ally tailored educational efforts in specially adapted settings. One of the primary objectives is
to help the child develop functional communication. The educational approaches must focus
on knowledge about the unique ways that children with autism learn. Various ABA strategies
(Applied behaviour analysis) as well as the structured teaching method in the TEACCH-model
(Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children) are
examples of such specially-tailored educational strategies for persons with autism.
Early identification, assessment and diagnosis are the first step. The next step is to provide ac-
curate information for, and education of, parents and other concerned persons as soon as pos-
sible. These, together with promptly applied supportive measures that are both well-planned
and individually tailored, are the long-term basis for being able to help the child to develop.
A specially adapted nursery school and subsequent schooling are important prerequisites for the
child; similarly an adapted home environment and daily activities are equally important for the
adults. Adolescents and adults may need continued access to educational measures to further
develop skills that aim to increase independence and participation, even if these measures had
been introduced early. High-functioning persons may require different types of assistance in
organizing their studies and access to various forms of tailored daily activities.
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