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What is autism?

Autism is a pervasive developmental disability which results in significantly impaired verbal and nonverbal communication and social interactions. The condition is generally manifest by age 3. Different systems define autism in different ways, resulting in further confusion as to what exactly autism is. Children with autism are hard to categorize and are often mistakenly labelled as multi-handicapped, especially since many of the speach and language disorders they exhibit resemble those of other disabilities. Children with autism become autistic adults. Unfortunately, this disorder is not outgrown.

What causes autism?

The best answer to this is that no one knows and there is not even a good guess. If you wish to assist in finding the cause, please lobby your congressman or the NIH (National Institutes of Health, the US gov't agency which funds most medical research in the US) to increase research funding for this disorder.

What are some characteristics of autistic children?

Autistic children have difficulty relating to other people, avoid eye contact, and have various other communication problems. They may look "blank" in their facial expression, not wish to be hugged or touched by others, and do "weird" stuff like spend long periods of time spinning jars or making crinkling sounds. Such children have problems expressing themselves, and may cry when happy or hit at others for no reason. An autistic child may have irrational fears of nonfrightening things. Interestingly, autistic children may display unique splinter skills. These skills are found in a very small number of autistic children and may include such things as incredible number skills or unusually savant artistic skills.

How are autistic children educated?

Traditionally, autistic children were confined to special education settings. Recently, autistic children have been more mainstreamed into inclusive classrooms. This often requires appropriate paraprofessional and other supports, but can result in a significant difference in the behavior of the autistic child.

Teachers of autistic children should be members of a team of many professionals helping the student. Intervention strategies should be tailored to that particular child, and the teacher should attempt to learn as much as possible about that child's history, behavior, and other services the child has/is receiving. Typically, an autistic child will need more assistance in some curricula areas than in others. Teachers also should ensure that the entire class understands the nature of autism and does not ridicule or shun the autistic child.

Some specific teaching techniques have been developed to help work with autistic children. These include self-management and facilitated communication. Self-management involves teaching the autistic child how to self-control, and uses behavioral techniques of self-recording one's one behavior and self-reinforcing for good behavior. Facilitated communication is controversial and involves using a facilitator to help the autistic child type or use a computer keyboard for communication purpose. The controversy revolves around whether the facilitator is actually influencing the person with autism and what is being communicated, even if the facilitator is unaware he/she is doing so. Research about this controversy is ongoing.

Links to Autism info

Links to organizations