Autism's Effects on Development and Education
Autism is a behavioral syndrome present from early life and defined by deficient social interaction, language and communication, and play. At one time thought by some to be psychodynamically determined, it is now clear that autism represents physiologic dysfunction of one or more undefined brain systems. In addition to characteristic autistic features, many autistic people display a variety of other signs such as attention deficits, mental deficiency, and seizures that are not specific to autism and that denote dysfunction in other brain systems (Bristol 1991). Variations in symptomatology and prognosis among autistic people depend on both the severity and the extent of the underlying brain dysfunction. There is little information about the pathology of autism, owing to the small number of brains examined.
Failure to acquire language at the expected age is the most frequent presenting complaint for preschool autistic children. In fact, all preschool autistic children have some type of development language disorder (dysphasia) (Mesibov and Shea 1996). In contrast to non-autistic dysphasic children, some of whom have predominantly or purely expressive disorders, virtually all pre-school autistic dysphasic children have impaired comprehension of language. Some autistic children are mute and seem to understand very little of what is said to them. They are word-deaf (verbal auditory agnosia), the most severe type of receptive dysphasia (Mesibov and Shea 1996). Others acquire language late and speak unintelligibly in short sentences with incorrect structure. Comprehension may be superior to expression in the majority of autistic children, which is an abnormality when compared with non-autistic children.
Other autistic children start to speak late and at first may produce a fluent, but unintelligible, jargon that has little apparent communication intent. On close scrutiny, this jargon contains bits and pieces of memorized television commercials, common phrases, or random syllables (Prizzant 1994). Despite their fluency, these children regularly have significant comprehension problems, especially for questions and connected speech. Still, other children speak early and clearly but incessantly, in a singsong voice.
An autistic child's output focuses on a narrow range of favorite topics with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking or for what is occurring at that particular moment. In fact, these children characteristically speak to themselves and have little need for a conversational partner. They may perseverate and ask the same question repeatedly when they fully know the answer. They may recite over-learned phrases, often with perfect imitation of the tone of voice and rhythm of the speaker they are imitating (Prizzant 1994). Especially when young, many verbal autistic children are echolalic, repeating a question rather than responding to it. ...