Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

What Is Autism?

Question: What is autism?

\r\n\r\n

Michael Wigler: Well, there are a triad of \r\nbehaviors that\r\nare the earmarks of autism.  The\r\ninclude difficulty in social interactions, delay in the development of \r\nspeech\r\nand communication.  And those are\r\ndistinguishable and repetitive behaviors, almost obsessive-like \r\nbehaviors.  

\r\n\r\n

The recognition of this triad as a condition we \r\ncall autism\r\nbegan only in the late ‘30s, and as the diagnostic criteria began to be \r\nmore\r\nwidely applied, more and more children were being called autistic.  And the definition, I think, I mean,\r\nwhen people now talk about autism spectrum disorders where a child has \r\nvarying\r\ndegrees of these abnormalities.  It\r\nis not, in fact, an extremely well-defined disorder.  It\r\n has sloppy boundaries to normal behavior.  We all\r\n know people that are awkward\r\nsocially, there are many people who learn language late in life, and we \r\nall may\r\nknow people that have stutters, or have obsessive behaviors, or even \r\nhang\r\nwringing.  So there is something of\r\na continuum of all three of these things. \r\nThat’s not a condition whose boundaries are well-defined.  Yet, if you meet a child with autism,\r\nyou can generally say that there is something profoundly wrong here. 

\r\n\r\n

But it’s a hard disorder to define better than \r\nthat.  And probably the reason it’s harder to\r\ndefine better than that is that the number of genes involved.  The number of underlying causes that\r\ncan create this triad is very great. \r\nFor example, the syndrome itself is enormously varied.  And if you have listened to somebody\r\nwho studies autistic children—children with autism, you’ll frequently \r\nhear them\r\nsay that each child that they see is different than the next.  It’s not really a syndrome in the way\r\nthat Down syndrome is a syndrome. \r\nThere are a variety of genetic disorders that are frequently—you \r\ncan\r\nalmost tell that the children who have these disorders have the same \r\nunderlying\r\ncause, because they’ll actually look alike.  It’s \r\nnot just Down syndrome that has that property, Progeria\r\nhas that property.  There are a\r\nnumber of childhood disorders where\r\nthe children who have these disorders actually look alike.  

\r\n\r\n

That’s not the case in autism.  Each\r\n child has—is sort of wonderfully different than the\r\nnext child, so there’s a huge amount of variability.  And\r\n I think this has confounded the general public because\r\nit appears that the rate of autism has been going up so dramatically.  In fact, I think that’s mainly due to\r\nincreased diagnosis.

Recorded April 12, 2010

The genetics professor describes one of the world’s most complex and controversial disorders.

Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

Bubonic plague case reported in China

Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.

(Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Getty Images)
Coronavirus
  • The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
  • Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
  • Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Keep reading Show less

Education vs. learning: How semantics can trigger a mind shift

The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.

Future of Learning
  • The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
  • Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
  • Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
Keep reading Show less

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

Keep reading Show less

Why is everyone so selfish? Science explains

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.

Credit: Adobe Stock, Olivier Le Moal.
Personal Growth
  • Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
  • New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
  • Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast