Next month will bring the opening of a new specialist school in Reading for 5-19 year olds who have autism. Regular state schools often struggle trying to mainstream pupils on the autistic spectrum, so schools like this can be greatly important in getting the best out of them. While a lot of autistic children can be very bright, their condition can affect their behaviour, so the learning has to be tailored to suit them.
Autism is a disability with a spectrum. People who are diagnosed can range hugely in the severity of their disability. Some may be able to lead totally independent lives, while others might have learning disabilities which necessitate specialist support. Those with autism may also be overly, or under-sensitive to sensations such as sounds, smells, lights and colours, so the school has been built in a way which would minimise the disruption this would cause on the ability of a student to concentrate. Muted colours and matt finishes within the construction will help to control this.
Higher than average intelligence is also frequently a characteristic of someone with autism, particularly with a condition such as Asperger syndrome. Whereby the person may struggle with social interactions and have conditions like dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Symptoms for diagnosis appear before a person is 3 years old, but the causes of autistic spectrum disorders is still unclear despite a lot of research going into the area. There are many different theories regarding its origin, the most prevalent idea for which is genetics. Several potential genes of causation have been identified, but no single mutation has been seen to cause all of the symptoms of the disorder. It is likely that multiple genes are involved and environmental factors may also play a part.
It could be that a person is born with a genetic predisposition for autism, but that the symptoms only manifest if they are exposed to certain conditions. The mother having a viral or bacterial infection, or smoking during pregnancy seem like likely hypotheses, with evidence to back them up. Similarly, male genetic material has a chance of gaining extra mutations as it gets older, which means that the age of the father is also a possible answer. It has also been suggested that autism is due to the link between the cerebral cortex in the brain, the amygdala and the limbic system (where your emotion is regulated) is being damaged.
While there is no formal register of people diagnosed with autism, it is estimated that approximately 700,000 people in the UK have the condition. Given that this is about 1.1% of the population, news of schools like this one opening is good news for the autistic community. It has been shown that people on the spectrum, can get better with the right sort of help, so the best possible education and start in life is essential.