Autism can be defined as a severe disorder of communication and behavior which can develop anywhere from birth to about thirty months. Autism is a severely incapacitating, bio-neurologically caused, life-long developmental disability that has been found throughout the world in families of all racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds. This disorder impairs the way sensory input is assimilated, causing problems in communication, social behavior and irregularity in learning.
There is a varied list of general and specific symptoms and behaviors that have been observed in autistic individuals. However, not every autistic person evidences every symptom, nor is the severity of frequency exhibited the same. Some of the major affected areas are: delay in social, physical and cognitive skills, immature patterns of speech, lack of speech or echolalia, limited understanding of ideas, use of words without the attachment of their usual meaning, abnormal responses to sensations and abnormal ways of relating to people, objects and events. Some specific abnormalities are: difficulty in social interaction, resists learning, shows lack of fear of real dangers, resists change in routine, unreceptive to physical attention, hyperactivity, lack of eye contact, over attachment to objects, spinning objects, hand flapping, self-abusiveness, rocking, etc.
Although autism was identified almost forty years ago, it is only within the past twenty years that any significant research has been done. Autism is now known to be a developmental disorder, but in earlier times was incorrectly viewed as a psychiatric disorder and therefore misdiagnosed as childhood schizophrenia. The effect of incorrect labeling is inappropriate placements and non-prescriptive treatment. .
Another widely advocated belief was that autism was a result of extremely cold, distant, rejecting and overly intellectual parenting.