A New Definition of Austim
Autism as classically defined was and is a devastating disorder. It was a severely incapacitating disability that was relatively rare. It occurred in approximately 1-2 infants per 10,000 births.
In this severe form of “Classic Autism” effective speech was absent. It could include symptoms of repetitive, highly unusual, aggressive and self-injurious behavior. Those afflicted had extremely abnormal ways of relating to people, objects, or events. Parents noticed that something was “not right” generally within the first three to six months of life. These children did not coo or smile. They resisted affection and did not interact normally.
In the last decade, another type of autism has surfaced that is often referred to as “Autistic Syndrome.” Children suffering from this disorder generally appear normal in the first 15-18 months of life. They do not present signs or symptoms pediatricians or neurologists would find atypical. These children create an inconsistency with previous held beliefs that 70-80% of autistic children are mentally retarded. They crawl, sit up, walk, and usually hit normal motor milestones on schedule. Up until the age of onset, they are affectionate and appear to have above average intelligence.
Children with this autistic syndrome may begin to develop some speech but then, without warning, cease to progress, or begin to regress. Suddenly, these children become withdrawn. They are quiet sometimes and hyper at other times. Often self-stimulatory behaviors (i.e. arm flapping, rocking, spinning, or head banging) develop. In time, some manifest symptoms that are both similar and atypical to children previously diagnosed as “classically autistic. ”
While training as a pediatrician, I was told if I saw one autistic child in a lifetime of practice it would be one too many. What I am seeing today is not the autism I learned about in medical school twenty years ago. What was once a relatively rare disorder is now twenty times more likely to occur. Before, “autism” was 1-2 per 10,000 births. Now, current statistics suggest a frequency of 20 per 10,000 births (rates of 40 per 10,000 or higher have been suggested).
In the past, autism was considered a “psychiatric” disorder. We now know that autism is a medical condition, not a mental disorder. Perhaps one of the reasons no one has come up with an answer for autism is the way we have thought of it (or rather did not think of it in medicine).
Most “MD” researchers did not look for the answers to autism because they felt this was a disorder that was untreatable medically. Treatment for this affliction was primarily left in the hands of psychologists and a few psychiatrists.