Autism

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I. In the process of evolution human beings have gained high level abilities. Their brain potential is bigger than that of other species. With that benefit come brain-based developmental disorders. This paper explores a type of psychological disorder known as autism.

The word “autism” derives from the Greek language and denotes the state of being self-absorbed. A psychiatrist Leo Kanner has studied children’s behavior and used the term to describe patients that were retarded, avoided social contacts and stayed isolated from the word. The further research has revealed a greater number of symptoms that fall under the notions of classical autism and autistic spectrum disorders. Different patterns of troubles are combined into a set of symptoms which reflect the autistic syndrome. Classical autism reflects the core features of the disorder.

People with autism have problems with communication and abnormalities related to social activities. The symptoms are divided into a few groups according to particular spheres of their identification. The groups are listed as follows:

  1. Social interaction: problems with developing of relations, not showing an interest in other people’s activities, absence of an emotional response.
  2. Impairment in communication: low and undeveloped language skills, stereotypic, repetitive language.
  3. Stereotyped activities: rituals, repetitive mannerism, obsession with one or more subjects of interest (Marohn, 2002).

The psychological condition is also characterized by anxiety, difficulties with concentration, hypersensitivity (to sound, light, touch), impulsivity, rocking or twirling behavior, monotonous voice, speaking in the third person (avoiding of the pronoun “I”), echolalia, prosody.

Usually, people with autism have an unchangeable facial expression, do not make eye contact and do not understand jokes. Absence of theory of mind, when one cannot modulate patterns of people’s conduct, is the decisive symptom.

Autism is considered to be a genetic disorder. According to Stephanie Marohn (2002), the illness is heritable, and males are more likely to have autism than females. Despite the fact that autism stems from the failures in neurodevelopment, the exact cause is unknown. Investigations show that the environmental factors and the problems that occur during the fetal growth play a great role. Unsteady environment (family break-ups, constant quarrels, certain food, infections, alcohol, smoking, permanent stress) may contribute to development of the genetic disposition.

Abnormal childish behavior has to be diagnosed. Attention has to be concentrated on the first phases of life. No babbling, gesturing and phrases by the age of 24 months identify the disorder. It is an enigmatic situation for the scientists when an autistic patient has savant skills. This is not a common thing, but sometimes a person may have extraordinary memory, or be good at counting. The synaptic dysfunction in one area of the brain may activate another area that is responsible for specific skills. This phenomenon has to be studied.

The treatment includes the decrease of stress in a family circle, fulfilling all the patient’s needs. There are special programs that focus on behavior therapy for children. The programs consist of applied behavior analysis, speech training, and social skills therapy. Drugs are prescribed for people diagnosed with autism. Among the cures are psychoactive drugs or anticonvulsants. Drugs do not cure completely but help such people to function in society. Antidepressants, stimulants and antipsychotics are used.

The prevalence of autism is increasing. There is information given by Stephanie Marohn that “the incidence rate, according to the Autism Research Institute, is now 1 in 160 to 200, up from 1 in 2,500 in the 1980s. The American Medical Association (AMA) states that as many as one in five children today have a neurodevelopmental condition such as autism, a learning disorder, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder” (Marohn, 2002).

There is nothing that medicine can do on this stage. Autism is a lifelong disorder. Patients undergo therapies that help them to interact with other people, but they can never be a part of it as the inner world closes the door to outsiders.

II. Psychological disorders are often depicted in cinematography. It shows people that such disorders are not sentences and one can always find a solution.  The movie Rain Man portrays the world of an autistic character. It was directed in 1988 and is one of the brightest movies dealing with this problematic issue.

The main hero is Charlie who happens to discover that he has an elder brother Raymond. Raymond is an autistic patient of the special center.

Raymond was taken away from the family when Charlie was too little to remember him. Later, Charlie has thought that it was his imaginary friend Rain Man (he was not able to pronounce correctly his brother’s name) who used to come. Raymond is a high-functioning patient. People with autism have weak immune systems, suffer from infections and allergies, but the character does not have such problems. On the contrary, Raymond is the “idiot savant”, as doctors call him. He has special skills that only geniuses have, which are an absolute memory and extraordinary counting ability. He is a person with certain deficiencies but has stunning mind potential.

Raymond is an autistic savant with problems in communication and learning. He cannot express his thoughts and understand his own emotions. He has the main symptoms of autism. Most autistic cannot speak, but Raymond communicates on a low level. A doctor asks him:

“Are you autistic?”

“I do not think so. No, definitely no”.

But still Raymond has problems in communicating and building relationships. He is more connected to things than people. He also never makes an eye contact that is a vital component of communication. Whenever Raymond is nervous, he repeats “Who’s on First”. Among repetitive phrases is the answer to many questions “I do not know”. Breaking a routine terrifies him and leads to emotional breakdowns and panic attacks. Raymond has the daily routine: he watches the television on the same time every day. He has eating habits and behavior taboos – he never goes out when it is raining. He does not like to be touched. He does not understand the concept of money.

Raymond has his own affections that he manages to show, but not in a traditional way. When this character meets people he likes he asks whether they take any prescribed medicine. This is a special thing, because he understands that words have their meanings, only he connects his words with emotions. He repeats certain things in different situations when he is afraid or happy.

Raymond is autistic but not totally isolated in his world, and he is able to make some contacts.

There is no information in the movie about the origin of the disorder. We may assume that environment has had some effects on Raymond. The relationship in the family may have developed this disorder. The supposition is based on Charlie’s words about his father: “My mother died when I was two. It was just him and me. We just did not get along”. We can also take into consideration Raymond’s fear of hot water. He explains that Charlie has had an accident and burnt himself when he was a baby. This has happened when Raymond was around. Perhaps, Raymond’s disorder has created the problem, or maybe he has become an autistic after the incident.

After Charlie’s burn, Raymond is transferred to an institution for people like himself. His case has been documented. He stays in the Walbrook, which is one of the best institutions, only because he has emotional outbursts when something is not like it has to be according to his rituals. No drugs are necessary. Certainly, Raymond has therapies like other autistic patients, but it is not mentioned in the movie. Raymond is under the constant observation and he has one nurse that always brings things he needs. It is appropriate in this case to keep Raymond under control in the institution. The fact that he has a brother may make doctors let Raymond be with people that care about him if they are responsible.

Classical autism is depicted in the movie. It shows that people with autistic disorder may have a normal life and they are not a threat to anybody. This disease is genetic, but the environment (stress, family problems, break-ups) plays a great role in its development. There is no cure for the illness, but therapies can help to develop communication skills, so that such people can have a connection to the real world and stop being self-absorbed. The movie illustrates the story of the illness of the grown man. It matches the statistics that men disorders prevail among women’s.

Raymond’s case is special, because Raymond is high functioning and has savant skills. In the end of the movie Raymond manages to understand a joke that illustrates the improvement that has happened during the communication with his brother. He gets to know that the “Who’s on First” is funny. He also has succeeded in dancing. Raymond has a hope to be understood in the society, while other autistic people do not have it. Many children suffer from autism and people do not care about them, while everyone should have a chance for a normal life. These people are not exiles, they need our help. Maybe the cure will be found in the future.

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