Autism in Media, Science, and Everyday Life
What defines a shortcoming in social communication, and what are the current hypotheses about its causes? Why is communication so complex for people living with autism? How do they see and think about their environment?
Typically introduced in media as persons with special abilities or “geniuses,” information about this atypical functioning of the human brain continues to lack realism. Recently, unusual sensory processing has been included in the criteria for autism due to its high prevalence among those on the autism spectrum and its impact on their lives. One person could find the smell of the grass so strong that walking on a grass field would be impossible, while another would wear the same clothes every day in order to avoid the change of sensation on the skin. The most common hypersensitivity affects the hearing, and some people report the ability to hear the sounds of the electricity on the wall. Studies have found high rates of sensory differences among people diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s condition, including both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity to various stimuli, as well as strong preferences for or against stimuli that are typically regarded as neutral for the general population. These heightened sensory perceptions are experienced as overwhelming, they impair the communication, and tend to isolate them from the environment.
According to the official definitions, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by a deficit in social interaction and communication, as well as by restrictive and repetitive behaviours and interests. The term ‘disorder’ implies a deficiency, a disease, or dysfunction. However, according to neurobiological research autism is a different way of functioning, rather than a combination of deficiencies. While many aspects of autism remain poorly understood, major advances have been made in terms of highlighting the genetic, biological, environmental, and developmental origins of the condition.
The condition is detected by observing behaviours and social interactions. It interferes with the person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. The severity of the autistic condition varies from one person to another. It is now recognized that some individuals with the condition are able to lead independent and fulfilling lives, whereas for others the impact can be severe and interfering significantly with quality of life.
This lecture will introduce autism from a cognitive and neurological point of view and will focus on sensory impairments. The goal is to reach a better understanding of what is it like to live with a brain that functions in this different mode.
About the facilitator:
Leslie Marneau, a clinical psychologist and founder of the NGO A Bus for Autism in Asia, is a member of the editorial board of the Open Journal of Psychiatry and allied sciences in India.