What does autism mean

Psychiatry, Psychosomatics & Psychotherapy

Symptoms and disorders of autism spectrum disorders

A fundamental deficit in the area of ​​social interaction and mutual understanding are typical for autistic disorders. In addition, there are special interests and stereotypical behavior in variable forms. Three Key Features can be seen in most people with autism spectrum disorder:

  • impaired social interaction
  • impaired communication and language
  •       repeated, stereotypical behaviors and interests.

Autistic persons lack the natural understanding of the feelings, thoughts and ideas of others, their empathy for themselves and others is limited, especially when it comes to understanding the thoughts of others. Because of this lack of understanding, they often do not adhere to social rules and norms and have difficulty building relationships. They often understand their environment in a different way than healthy people and show a limited interest in their counterparts. They usually avoid eye contact and show little facial play or other gestures to express their emotions. For example, they show little or no joy that they share with others.

Autistic children seek little contact with their peers and rarely react positively to advances made by others. Most of the time they enjoy playing or reading alone. They often prefer to make contact through smell, touch, and other senses. Fantasy and group games of their peers are usually alien to them. It is particularly difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder to imitate, and thus also to gain insight into the mediating behaviors of others and to learn through imitation.

Many autistic children - especially with early childhood autism - have in common that they show peculiarities in language development. Sometimes the language does not develop at all, is very delayed or is characterized by the stereotypical repetition of words (echolalia). The children also tend to use their own word compositions (neologisms) and stand out due to their strange, monotonous emphasis.

Autistic children have particular difficulties with the word "I". The child can only call himself "I" late or not at all. In contrast to deaf people, they cannot compensate for the lack of language skills through facial expressions or gestures, or by spontaneously imitating the actions of others.

Everything that is said is usually understood literally, irony, jokes and proverbs can usually not be interpreted. Many patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder acquire language that they are generally not able to use well for dialogue. They often sound precocious and mechanical and do not respond to the statements of their "interlocutor".

Autistic patients can spend a lot of time repeating movements that are always the same (stereotypes) such as turning / flickering their fingers in front of their eyes, rocking on the spot or doing strange twists and turns. Those affected also love rituals in everyday life, have a great need for uniformity in their environment and usually have a pronounced "fear of change".

Autistic children often do not play with the "usual" toys such as dolls (and thus do not organize role-playing games) and cars, but mostly devote themselves to partial aspects (e.g. the wheels of a car) or develop very limited special interests. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder often carry a "favorite item" with them. They also like to watch technical devices such as a washing machine or a traffic light for hours.

Almost all autistic people can get excited about running water. In addition, well-gifted people with autism spectrum disorder often also show pronounced special interests, which on the one hand can interfere with learning other content, but which can also be used in a profitable professional manner in some cases.

Many autistic patients have problems developing cleanliness in early childhood. The registration of a filled bladder or intestine is often not perceived correctly. Sometimes they refuse to go to the toilet and insist on a diaper. In addition, due to stereotypical, ritualized eating behavior, there is usually a very one-sided, unhealthy diet and, as a result, more frequent constipation.

The pain perception of many affected is also disturbed. For example, a person with autism can react with intense pain to the slightest touch, while another person feels almost no pain even with severe injuries, but covers their ears in pain when a pencil falls on the floor. In some cases, people with autistic disorders are prone to self-harm - for example, they hit their head against the wall, pull their hair out or bite their fingers with blood.

Many children with autistic disorder are motor restless, impulsive, and exhibit attention problems consistent with signs of attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder or tic disorder. Some people develop epilepsy in early childhood or after puberty. Anxiety disorders and depressive disorders also occur more frequently, especially in children, adolescents and adults with an average talent with autism spectrum disorder.

The intellectual talent of autistic people can be very different: They can be mentally disabled, but also normally intelligent with amazing abilities, e.g. special memory in sub-areas (island talent) such as mathematics, music or in other areas in which social understanding does not play a role.

Technical support: Prof. Dr. med. Dipl. Theol. Christine M. Freitag, Frankfurt (DGKJP)