Autism is a form of mental illness (psychosis) in children. The word autism comes from “auto”, the Greek word for “self” and literally means “self-ism”. The autistic child is wrapped up in his or her own unrealistic inner thoughts, unable to communicate or relate to other people.

Although the cause of autism remains a mystery, several reasons for the disorder have been suggested. In some cases, an inborn mental defect may play a part, since many of these children from birth do not smile and do not accept affectionate cuddling. In other instances, severe mental or physical trauma during childhood may contribute to the disorder. The sex of the child may also be a factor; males are four times as likely as females to be autistic.

Autism is a collection of symptoms of unknown cause, beginning in the first 30 months of innate, and uninterested in people including parents, brothers and sisters. The child seems to behave as if he or she is alone in the world.

Accompanying this attitude is speech and language disorder, the child may learn to speak late or not at all, and if speech develops it is odd and limited. One common practice echolalia (repeating or “echoing” the last phrase of word of everything the other person says). There is total resistance to change. There is repetition of meaningless acts as rocking, arm-flapping or head banging.

Finally, mental development is often uneven. Usually the child does best in non-language subjects and may learn best with methods that emphasize memorization and drill. There are no particular signs of nervous system defects, although half of all autistic children experience seizures before reaching their teens.

In diagnosing autism, the doctor must distinguish it from childhood schizophrenia. A tranquilizer may be prescribed if needed for emergency use to quiet screaming or violent outburst.

An autistic child may have to be cured in an institution or a special school like day care program.

The methods of treatment used today (which include the parents) are known as behavior therapy: reward system; self-care skills; and speech therapy. Some may become normal adult. Unfortunately, there is no recognized method of prevention.