Autism, Brain, and Environment

By Richard Lathe | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Autism and Autism Spectrum
Disorders: An Introduction
to the Problem of Recognition
and Diagnosis
Autism is difficult to describe, though trained clinicians say it is as distinctive as a sunset or a symphony. Some disorders are easily defined by markers, such as the extra chromosome found in Down syndrome. Others can be ascertained by numerical values: for example, of blood pressure in the assessment of hypertension, or of blood sugar in diabetes. No essential markers have yet been identified in autism, and none may exist. Instead the criteria for autism are now widely accepted to involve anomalies in three central categories, known as the triad of impairments, as set out by Wing and Gould:1
deficits or marked abnormalities in social interaction
deficits or marked abnormalities in communication including language
restricted and often repetitive behavioral repertoires, interests, and activities.

Of course, many childhood problems meet one or more of these criteria, and the experienced physician relies on other clues to venture a precise diagnosis of autism rather than another disorder. For instance, an unusual enjoyment of spinning objects, flapping movements of the hands, an intriguing fixation on the sense of smell – with newcomers being greeted with a sniff rather than a [hello] are all seen in autism. But these features are difficult to quantify. And, though

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