What is autism?
According to the current state of knowledge, autism is a neuro(psychological) developmental disorder which – contrary to older accounts – is not related to the parenting behaviour of the parents and is also not triggered by children’s vaccinations. The brain of a person with 'autism spectrum disorder' processes stimuli and information differently than the brains of people who are not affected. For example, social information such as a facial expression is not processed holistically, but separated into the mouth region vs. the eye region. Accordingly, the assignment to individual feelings (someone is giving me a 'sincere' or 'false' smile) is often very difficult and confusing.
The interpretation of linguistic and social stimuli is also difficult when signals are not clear. For example, the colloquial sentence 'You want to take me for a ride' is not interpreted situationally and symbolically, but rather verbatim. The irritation of autism sufferers in such communicative situations can be correspondingly great.
The developmental disorder can have profound effects on social life. Social communication with fellow human beings and pupils can be severely impaired. Some people with autism disorders deal unilaterally with certain things, are attached to routines, are less flexible about changes in daily habits or tend to stereotypical behaviour. These are often things that are known as personal characteristics from life. But not every hobby railway enthusiast – like Sheldon Cooper from the series 'Big Bang Theory' – has to be autistic.
Asperger as a special form
A subtype of autism is the so-called Asperger syndrome. The difference is the cognitive ability (intelligence). Most people with Asperger’s syndrome have a normal intelligence, some also an above-average intelligence, which can facilitate the participation (due to a high flexibility in thinking) in the social life. Asperger’s syndrome occurs in the population with a frequency of approx. 1-3 affected persons per 1000 people, all autism spectrum disorders with approx. 6-7 affected persons per 1000 people.
Since not all people suffering from Asperger’s syndrome have been diagnosed with 'Asperger' as a child, it may be worthwhile to get to the bottom of the matter as an adult if there is any suspicion.
- Exceptional talents (which can sometimes be very special: interest in numbers),
- certain topics are very much preferred
- little contact with others
- little social contact
- Avoid eye contact
- spontaneous changes in habits or agreements are experienced as disturbing
- little flexibility in action
Counselling and therapy options
Those affected help themselves by clarifying whether they have Asperger’s disease. The diagnosis is therefore very important. There are ways and strategies to learn to deal with one’s 'peculiarities' and to communicate them to one’s environment, so that mutual understanding is greater and easier. 'Asperger cannot be 'treated away' – but today we know that children with Asperger disorders can also benefit from model learning and gradually become more flexible in their behaviour. Others can help by approaching their friends more tolerantly and trying to accept their peculiarities.
Questions for diagnostic clarification can be answered by the offices of the Psychiatric Institute Outpatient Clinics (PIA) in Passau and Mainkofen. They can help to find the right contact person for a diagnosis.
For English speaking students we would like to recommend a research initiative, that is led by the Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom and which examine the relationships between autism and university learning.
- Network Autism Lower Bavaria/Upper Palatinate
- Federal Association Autism
- autism&uni (Research project of Leeds Beckett University, Great Britain). The project offers an online tool to help autistic students find their way around everyday life at the university (installation instructions for the online tool will be sent to interested parties after contacting the organisers).