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Autism is a neurological condition in which a child is unable to relate to people and situations. It first emerges in early childhood, when the child is first developing social and interpersonal skills. It is a rare condition affecting approximately five people out of every 10,000. Seventy per cent of people with autism are male. Physically there is nothing wrong with people who have autism, and this can make diagnosis difficult. However, most autistic children will have been diagnosed by the age of three.
The condition continues throughout life, and can seriously affect how autistic people view and interact with the world around them. People with autism often find the world a confusing place, and can become trapped in behaviour patterns that may seem strange or obsessive while attempting to find the meaning in it.
Autistic people can find it extremely difficult to develop and sustain friendships since the feelings of other people make little sense to them. In an attempt to create a sense of meaning, autistic people may often fall into repetitive patterns of behaviour.
There are three main areas in which autistic people can experience difficulties. These are often known as the triad of impairments:
Autistic people tend to be resistant to change and develop rituals of behaviour. They may display evidence of disturbance if any attempts are made to change their familiar routine. This resistance to change makes it difficult to teach the autistic child new skills.
There are a number of related disorders that were confused with autism in the past. Recent research has begun to distinguish between the different types of disorders that can cause autistic types of behaviour:
There does not seem to be a single cause of autism, but increasingly genetic influence is coming to be seen as important. It is more likely that identical twins will both be autistic than non-identical twins, for example. Autism is thought to be related to how the brain develops during pregnancy and shortly after birth. There is growing speculation in America about the influence of viruses and pollution on the development of autism. Having a bout of Rubella while pregnant may increase the chances of having an autistic child.
Autism is a lifelong condition, and there is no "cure". With early diagnosis and special education, children with autism will be able to improve their social and communication skills. Unfortunately, such specialist care can be difficult to obtain in Ireland.
Some people with autism respond well to a hormone treatment of Secretin. This is not yet readily available in Ireland, and careful medical advice should be sought by anyone thinking about embarking on such a treatment.
Associated medical problems such as epilepsy will require treatment with anti-epileptic medications.
In the Republic, people with autism and their families and friends can get information and support from the Irish Society for Autism, which was founded in 1963. They can be contacted at:
The Irish Society for Autism,
16/17 Lower O'Connell Street,
Tel: (01) 8744684
Fax: (01) 8744224
Website: http://www.autism.ie/ Irish Autism Action is an organisation of Parents for parents. They all have first hand knowledge of discovering autism in their families and learning to cope with it. Website: www.autismireland.ie
Irish Autism Action is an organisation of Parents for parents. They all have first hand knowledge of discovering autism in their families and learning to cope with it.
In Northern Ireland and Donegal, the PAPA organisation provides support for those with autism and their families. They have branches throughout the North of Ireland, and can be contacted at:
PAPA Resource Centre,
Knockbracken Healthcare Park,
Belfast BT8 8BH.
Tel: (01232) 401729
Fax: (01232) 403467