Alone and in silence, Ryan Johnson sits in a conference room in downtown Manhattan approximately six hours each day. He's writing a program for one of his company's clients, a leading stock broking firm of New York. Ryan's current workspace suits him better than the previous one. It was an open-floor office with the constant ringing of telephones, chatty colleagues, and the sound of clicking keyboards. Working in such an environment exhausted Ryan who has Asperger's syndrome, a lower form of autism spectrum disorder.
Ryan's condition has become more common in the US in the last 50 years. Autism spectrum disorder was first identified back in 1949. It was, however, never studied systematically for several decades. A sketchy study in 1970 discovered that one in every 14,000 children in the US had autism spectrum disorder. In 2000, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started to collect regular data about autistic children and the number more than doubled. One in every 68 children is today affected with autism. A recent study by behavioral scientists in South Korea found that one in every 38 children aged between seven and 12 had some degree of autism spectrum disorder.
Autism is a complicated brain condition. It encompasses a wide range of symptoms that usually include discomfort to mix with people, obsessive interests, and hypersensitivity to touch, taste, smell and sound. More than one-fourth of all autistic children don't speak. Some studies have pegged the number higher. They need the help of apps like "What's the Expression" and "Make Sentences" to communicate.
But at the other end of autism spectrum are people with high or average intelligence who are able to live a normal life. These include singers, musicians, painters, and even engineers and computer programmers.
The level of autism usually varies among people. Many autistic persons score high in intelligence tests, but at the same time, struggle in their communication and make repetitive movements like flapping of hands or rocking back and forth. Others may have a good vocabulary but suffer from a poor IQ level and motor skills that can make using of simple tools like a fork or a pencil difficult. "What's the Expression" and "Make Sentences" apps can help them in such cases.
The causes of autism spectrum disorder aren't much understood. Genes often play a major role behind the condition. But environmental factors like parental exposure to air pollution and viruses also matter.
Scientists believe that autism spectrum disorder is triggered early in life. While parents may notice some odd behaviors in their children before they are one-year old, the symptoms don't always appear until much later. For some unknown reasons, males appear more susceptible to autism. For instance, in the US, autism is found more than five times as often in boys than girls.
Autism has no cure. But the label is often inappropriate for autistic children who may improve with regular counseling. They may just be able to do things independently sans any support and shine in their professional life.