By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
One in 44 children has been diagnosed with autism, according to recent data. This is up from one in 54 children in 2016, which experts attribute to more year-over-year awareness and services provided. Autism spectrum disorders hinder social and empathetic abilities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from 2018 and found that one child out of every 44 has autism. Two years earlier, only one in 54 children had been diagnosed. However, medical experts didn’t suggest that the rise in diagnoses reflected a rise in cases, but rather improved awareness about autism and an increased availability of services and resources.
However, despite its pre-World War II origins, autism is still misunderstood. In his video series Origins of the Human Mind, Dr. Stephen P. Hinshaw, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, describes the nature of the disorder.
Kanner and Autism
“In the very late 1930s and the early 1940s, Professor Kanner in the United States and Dr. Asperger in Europe independently discovered similar clinical conditions,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “In both cases, rare groups of children were shown to display severe social deficits, often from the earliest years of life. Kanner called this ‘early infantile autism,’ ‘autism’ the term signaling a sense of core isolation.”
At the time, Kanner was the head of child psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. According to Dr. Hinshaw, Kanner identified three core symptom areas. First, language problems and delays. In fact, many autistic people never learn to speak. Others engage in “echolalia,” or repeating what’s just been said. Still others adamantly focus on talking only about very specific subjects.
“The second symptom area [is] social isolation and difficulty bonding with others,” he said. “Parents report that, during the first months of life, many children with autism recoil from being held. Eye contact with the parent is poor or nonexistent.”
Finally, the third symptom area involves what Dr. Hinshaw called “repetitive play and a real need for the preservation of routine.” Autism is generally noted for the autistic person’s extremely rigid behavior—a child may throw a violent tantrum over even the slightest deviation from a routine. Hinshaw said that to obtain a diagnosis of an autistic disorder, children must show debilitating patterns in these three areas during the first three years of life.
Asperger, Asperger’s Disorder, and ASD
Dr. Asperger’s research showed one subtle but considerable difference. According to Dr. Hinshaw, Asperger saw children who could speak very well, showing very little of Kanner’s first symptom area, if any. However, Asperger noted these children had very specialized and peculiar interests and could not handle or manage any change of topic away from their interests. Additionally, sometimes their language would not be responsive to others.
“Today we use the term ‘Asperger’s disorder’ to refer to youth or adults with what is otherwise called ‘high-functioning autism,'” Dr. Hinshaw said. “In fact, these two diagnoses are almost interchangeable, although some contend that there are subtle differences.”
These disorders fall under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders. As recently as half a century ago, it was believed that autism was a very rare condition, but when someone had it, it was fully debilitating and made daily life next to impossible. Things have changed since then.
“We’ve shifted in recent years to the view that autism occurs along a spectrum or continuum,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “Relatively few children have the ‘full’ autism disorder, with severe problems in communication, social abilities, play, and restricted interest; but a larger number have some degree of difficulty in several, if not all, of these domains.”