Autism is a complex neurobehavioral disorder that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. The disorder covers a large spectrum of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment. It ranges in severity from a handicap that somewhat limits an otherwise normal life to a devastating disability that may require institutional care.
Children with autism have trouble communicating. They have trouble understanding what other people think and feel. This makes it very hard for them to express themselves either with words or through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.
A child with autism who is very sensitive may be greatly troubled -- sometimes even pained -- by sounds, touches, smells, or sights that seem normal to others.
Children who are autistic may have repetitive, stereotyped body movements such as rocking, pacing, or hand flapping. They may have unusual responses to people, attachments to objects, resistance to change in their routines, or aggressive or self-injurious behavior. At times they may seem not to notice people, objects, or activities in their surroundings. Some children with autism may also develop seizures. And in some cases, those seizures may not occur until adolescence.
The occurrence of autism has increased by 500% over the past five years and currently one out of every 52 children in South Africa is affected by this neurological disorder.
Research has shown that early intervention can result in as many as 48% of diagnosed children being mainstreamed into regular schools, which will have a more positive impact on the long term education and employment statistics.
It has been calculated that it costs a family approximately R3-million (over and above the normal expenses) to raise a child on the autism spectrum per year, as treatments are specialised and very expensive. However, if early intervention is received, the cost comes down to R1-million.
Autism does not discriminate between racial, ethnic or social boundaries, family income, lifestyle or education. It CAN affect anyone.