You may have noticed a child in your class who has something called “Autism.”  Although there are many different kinds of autism that span across a wide variety, autistics have many common characteristics.  You may have noticed your classmate does not play with other kids, they may rock or spin a lot, they may flap their hands, they may not understand jokes your teacher says, and they may constantly talk about one subject constantly, even when you believe no one wants to listen.  These are various characteristics of many autistic child; but what makes someone autistic?


Brain differences:

Many studies of the brains of autistics have shown direct differences in parts of the brain.  For example, there is an increase in the size of the parietal lobe which has to do with sensory information such as sight, sound, touch and taste.  There was also an increase in the parieto-temporal lobe which controls language, speech and hearing.  However, autistic’s brains are not larger overall, which means that other parts of their brain may be slightly smaller.  Many scientists believe that these differences are ones that autistics are born with as it is unlikely that these changes would develop over time.



Social Differences:

These brain differences may change the way an autistc views the world because they control how information from your environment is interpreted.  These changes may result in the social differences many autistic children experience.  They do not seem to have the ability to distinguish facial expressions or body language and therefore will not recognize when someone is joking or being sarcastic.  They also may not realize when someone is being mean to them and take whatever is said to them at word value without any emotional connotation.  The differences also result in autistics having communication differences where they may not be able to speak or get a message to someone who does not understand them.  They therefore often use computers or writing to communicate.  It is important for you to understand that although your classmate might have problems understanding you and communicating with you, they still have feelings that can be hurt and many of them want to have friends.


Is autism contagious?

No, autism is not contagious.  It is a difference that is based on the brain and is a difference in the development of a child.  You cannot get autistic tendencies from someone who is autistic just as you cannot break your arm just because you hang out with someone who has a broken arm.



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