First, we would generally say Sasha is diagnosed with ASD or has autism, rather than she is autistic. That's because saying she is autistic kind of implies that's all she is, whereas in reality she has autism, but that isn't the whole of her, she has many other skills and qualities. ASD is Autistic Spectrum Disorder - so called because the behaviours can range from mild to very severe - and I'm sure most people would understand it to be about the severe cases such as those that have been televised. Characteristics such as repetitive behaviour, lack of social awareness and the like can all be shown to varying degrees. The National Autistic Society (NAS) explains it as follows:
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. People with autism have difficulties with everyday social interaction.
In the 'olden' days, people assumed that autism was caused by parenting - so a lack of discipline for example would lead to bad behaviour. Nowadays thankfully a lot more research has been done, and this idea has been totally thrown out. Autism is complicated and down to the genetic make-up of a person, so you are in fact born with it. As per the NAS, 'Autism is a complex developmental disability involving a biological or organic defect in the functioning of the brain'.
The statistics now say 1 in 100 children will have autism, and it is amazing how many friends of friends who have children with this diagnosis have now been mentioned to me. I'm sure I will make some great new friends who share some of the same daily challenges as me - but then everyone is different, in the same way that some of my old mum friends will not have had the same food battles with their children as me but may have had worse child sleep problems! There is no proven reason for the increase in diagnosed cases, although it follows that some of this is down to increased understanding of ASD as a condition.
Two facts from the NAS, with links to their web page:
Over half a million people have autism in the UK
Boys are four times more likely to develop autism than girls
There are no cures for autism, it is not something that goes away as children grow up. There are various methods in practice, and developing all the time, to improve behaviour, but what works for one child may not for another. Again according to NAS: 'Autism is a lifelong developmental disability with no cure. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism.'
And there ends todays lesson :) just a quick intro, I'm sure I'll pass on more information in the future!