Autism is not a disease.
Autism is a developmental neurological condition, which means that our brains are different because they have developed differently compared to non-autistic people.
Typical autistic traits are:
Difficulty with emotional reciprocity, i.e. starting a conversation with others, maintaining the flow of conversation, sharing interests and interacting socially.
Dificuldade com comunicação não verbal, ou dificuldade em entender, descodificar e replicar a linguagem corporal, o contacto visual, a expressão facial, os gestos, etc.
Dificuldades em desenvolver, manter e compreender relacionamentos.
Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, or use of objects or speech, in a repetitive and constant manner.
Insistence on maintaining routines, inflexible adherence to routines or ritualised patterns of verbal or non-verbal behaviour.
Different intensity and focus on specific interests (e.g. trains, politics, animals, books or something specific like a characteristic insect behaviour).
Hyper- or hypo-sensitivity, which are characterised by low or high reactivity to sensory stimuli, such as sound, light, touch, taste, pain or any sensory experience.
Autism is lifelong, but with support and therapy we can overcome many of our difficulties. However, it is a spectrum, and if you know one autistic person, you know only one autistic person. We are all different.
This is important because much of the effort in recent years has been in looking for 'cures' rather than understanding how to support and help autistic people to verbalise, socialise and manage their difficulties.
Within the Autism Spectrum, there is a lot of different difficulties, strenghts, and needs for each autistic individual. Support levels may variate depending on the age, social circumstance, and other variables, so it is not static.
However, the spectrum is not from “low functionality” to “high functionality”, and instead it is a circular spectrum where every autistic people have different difficulties.
The term neurodiversity was described in 1998 by Australian sociologist, autistic and activist Judy Singer, who classified certain neurological conditions (for example: autism) as natural variations of human diversity, and not as diseases or disorders. Just as there are people of different races, genders, eye colours, hair types, there are also different brains and neurological predispositions (functions: cognitive, affective and perceptive). For this researcher, atypical neurological development (neurodivergent) for conventional standards of normality is a biologically natural, and necessary, event. Building on Charles Darwin’s (1809-1912) theory of evolution, in which intra-species variability is crucial for evolution, neurodiversity is, a subset of biodiversity, central to the success of the human species.
The concept of neurodiversity encompasses individuals with various neurodevelopmental disorders: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Intellectual Developmental Disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia; and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. Self-described neurodiverse individuals consider themselves to be neurologically diverse.
Autism is genetic, but there are still some gene variations that we don’t know how they originate.
When we talk about environmental causes, they do NOT refer to vaccines, foods or environmental causes for the child, but rather environmental causes that can affect genetic makeup or neurodevelopment before and during birth (not after). The risk factors in the most recent studies are the following: advanced age of the parents at conception, prenatal exposure to air pollution or certain pesticides, maternal obesity, diabetes or immune system disorders, extreme prematurity or very low birth weight, any difficulty in delivery leading to periods of oxygen deprivation in the baby’s brain and absence of prenatal vitamins.
However, these factors alone are not likely to cause autism. Instead, they appear to increase a child’s risk of developing autism when combined with genetic factors.