Uta Frith 1989
Chapter 1; What is autism?
I, like most people, probably have a big gap in my knowledge when it comes to the phenomenon of autism which is why I have resolved to close it. I knew that there was an 'autistic spectrum' and some of the vague characteristics, for example not being able of interact or socialise in a 'normal' way and avoiding eye contact.
One of the main mistakes I have made in my assumptions is that 'Asperger's syndrome' is one of the most severe forms of autism that there is. It seems that completely the opposite is true and Asperger's is the mildest form and is what is commonly known as 'high functioning' autism. This is generally not diagnosed until after childhood as it doesn't feature some of the early signs which other forms of autism feature such as a late onset of language acquisition.
This is something else I did know about autism, which is that as well as having implications on an autistic person's ability to communicate on a social level it also has implications on their ability to actually form original utterances. I'm not sure how deeply this runs as the chapter is quite vague about it, presumably and hopefully the author expounds on this later in the book but instances or children only speaking in unanalysed blocks of language could have enormous implications for Chomsky's theory of a Language Acquisition Devise. I shall have to look into this.
Sorry, I promised I wouldn't let this project become about language and look, it has, back to what I've learnt;
The first 2 men to discover autism were Asperger and Kanner in what seems to be a sort of Darwin/Wallace type scenario. They both released papers, one year apart during world war two which were originally dismissed by their contemporaries. It seems crazy that such a condition that presently is the subject of so many social campaigns was recognised only 60 years ago. I am always surprised at how recent anything like this has been discovered. It fills me with confidence that we've only just started to scratch the surface of the brain and that there's far more to discover about the conditions we presently know about as well as as yet undiscovered onces.
Asperger's paper spanned a much broader set of children than the Kanner paper, touching on much wider edges of the more mildly affected which is why mild autism is called 'Asperger's syndrome'. Kanner only studied much more severely affected children. It seems odd, Frith points out, that Kanner's syndrome is not a much more widely used term to describe more severe forms of the condition. I think we should start calling it after Kanner because it seems a shame that he isn't getting as much recognition for his ideas as Asperger.
A main point which Frith seems to want to push extensively throughout this chapter is that autism is not just a condition that affects children and children do not grow out of autism. I'm not sure why there might be a myth that this is the case, especially since Rainman came out, but it certainly rang bells. I think this may be down to children with autism having a much greater impact on the world we live in because we have to integrate them into our society before they or the people who look after them have not worked out effective ways to deal with their problems. It seems that adults with autism tend to keep to themselves or have worked out a system or routine which helps them fit into the world in which we live and so we hear less of them. Also, more research seems to have been done on children with or potentially with autism in order to work out ways to notice it early. Whilst it seems this research is mostly unsuccessful it is definitely a place of priority as if we can diagnose autism early we can tailor a child's social environment and education accordingly.
I am, by no means, now an expert about autism but I definitely know more than I did and I definitely feel less ignorant for it. I feel the need that I have to fill the gaps I now have in terms of depth of research and what research has taken place, especially with regards to language. I will definitely look into this and report back when I have.
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