(according to Prof. Dr. phil. Matthias Dalferth, member of Wissenschaftlicher Beirat des BV Hilfe für das autistische Kind)
Autism can usually be observed in children during the first three years of life. Several typical abnormalities must be observed at the same time, which are listed below. Individuals with these peculiarities may not be considered exceptional in normal development. It is therefore the overall picture that matters.
First signs (up to 18 months):
– Children show little interest in being held and do not smile back when familiar people approach.
– They avoid eye contact and do not pay attention to or imitate pointing gestures.
– They often do not respond to sounds and do not seem to understand speech.
– Repetitive, stereotyped movements and preoccupation with the same objects seem to reassure them.
– Language development appears limited as they have difficulty imitating speech.
– Sleep disturbances and problems with food intake may also occur.
– According to the international classification systems (ICD 10 and DSM-IV), full-blown autism is based on the following core symptoms:
– A qualitative impairment in interpersonal relationships.
– Severe impairment of communication and imagination.
– Markedly restricted interests and stereotypical behaviour patterns.
– The onset of symptoms is during the first 36 months of life.
A diagnosis of autism is only justified if relevant abnormalities are observed simultaneously in each of the above areas. The main features are as follows:
Language and Communication:
– About half of autistic children never learn to express themselves vocally.
– Others develop striking speech with melody, word choice and grammar.
– Eye contact when speaking is often brief or absent, and speech-accompanying facial expressions and gestures are not used.
– Children communicate mechanically and have difficulty understanding metaphorical expressions or gestures.
Perception and processing of sensory stimuli:
– The children show preferences for certain sounds, but are often unreceptive to speech or loud sounds.
– They are fascinated by visual stimuli and engage in repetitive movements.
– They find it difficult to recognise faces and some are sensitive to everyday sounds.
– Children often show repetitive, rhythmic hand, head or body movements, especially when aroused.
– Some have problems coordinating movements and have difficulty imitating simple actions.
– Rule and role play is not done or is limited.
– The children use toys more for sensory stimulation.
– Everyday life is characterised by ritualised behaviour and constraints.
– Interest in new things is limited and imagination is less pronounced.
Difficulties in extracting meaning from language and understanding emotional expressions of other people make it difficult to interact with others.
Autistic people can learn to make contact, but need support in communicating and understanding the intentions of those around them. It is important to know that they do have feelings, but cannot always express them in an understandable way.
Prof. Dr. phil. Matthias Dalferth (Mitglied im Wissenschaftlichen Beirat des BV Hilfe für das autistische Kind)
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