First described and named by Leo Kanner in 1944, the mysterious disability of autism is characterized by a peculiar emotional and intellectual detachment from other people and the common world. An impaired capacity to have social relationships and to speak becomes evident by the age of three. Although the symptoms vary in nature and severity, language and the capacity for a normal social life are always seriously affected. It occurs more in boys than in girls (3:4).
The earliest signs may appear in the first months of life, autistic infants often shrink from touch, they go limp or they stiffen. While normal babies recognize their mother's voice when they are two or three months old. Later in the first year they will start to reach with their hands, a kind of wordless conversations, they will eventually make syllables like "ma" and "pa". Autistic children never reach these stages or pass through them later in life.
In infancy the symptoms are subtle and unnoticeable, it is clear though by the age of three that something is wrong. Autistic children do not maintain eye contact; they have difficulty distinguishing one person from another. They ignore other children, and prefer repetitious play, solitary play, such as staring at revolving objects or arranging things in specific patterns. Their sense of detachment and drive for solitude gives some people the idea that they live in a world of their own, hence the definition of autism, self-living.
Autistic people tend to concentrate on one subject at a time, they find it difficult to shift or divide their attention. Moving from one activity to another can provoke an emotional crisis; they may panic in the face of a change as slight as new furniture in the house. Language is absent or its development is delayed. Some...