Autism presents as a neuro-developmental disorder and is affecting a growing number of children in different ways. Autism is known as a spectrum disorder, involving speech-language delay, impaired social interaction, sensory integration dysregulation and self-stimulatory and ritualistic behaviour. People presenting on the Autistic Spectrum can have difficulties interacting with others, can have inappropriate response to social conversations, can often not interpret nonverbal communication and can have difficulty initiating and maintaining friendships appropriate for their age group. They can also become set in and dependent on their routines, can be sensitive to external stimuli, often handle change with difficulty, can be opposisional and defiant when being guided, and can become overly interested or fixated on certain topics or objects. There is a variable range of presentation with people being affected in a spectrum of ways on each level.
According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder is based upon social-communication criteria; restrictive and repetitive behaviour and sensory disregulation. The diagnosis is further qualified by stating the age of onset, the level of impairment and adding further associated diagnoses, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Epilepsy, Anxiety Disorder or others.
Statistics are variable, but at the moment statistics in South Africa elude to a 1:88 incidence. The incidence of Autistic Spectrum Disorder seems to be increasing rapidly. Although the new DSM diagnosis does not indicate treatment for autism, but provides diagnostic guidelines to be able to identify the disorder early, so a prompt optimisation plan can be devised. For developmental delays, early intervention is crucial.