Nature of disability

Nature of disability

Autism is a composite of two Greek words “aut” which means “self” and “-ism” which implies “orientation or state”. Therefore, autism could be defined as the condition of a person who is unusually absorbed in him or herself. (Reber 1985)

It is a lifelong development disability and mainly affects the way people communicate and socialize with other people around them. In the autistic children and adults there is a difficulty in everyday social interaction. Their ability to develop relationships such as friendship is considerably limited as their capacity to understand other people's gestures and emotional expression.

Key characteristics of Autism

The people with autistic spectrum disorders experience three basic areas of difficulty. In psychological terminology, they are known as “the triad of impairments”.

· Social Interaction The first of the impairments includes the difficulty with social relationships and aloof appearance, indifferent to other people. This indifference make the autistic individual become electively and complete withdrawn from interpersonal interactions.

· Social Communication This includes verbal and non-verbal difficulties in communication and also difficulties of understanding the meaning of facial expressions, abstract concepts or tone of voice. Although the little or no concept of consensus and the lack of understanding societal norms, the autistic individual is able to or desires to live in communal situations with others.

· Imagination The last of the impairments include difficulties in the development of interpersonal play. The autistic individual has a very limited range of imaginative activities, which are often copied and used rigidly and repetitively. (

Meeting the autistic individual


- Drawing and Painting

The majority of the people with autistic spectrum disorders develop excellent skills in drawing and painting. These skills depend on their observation in detail and their ability to memorize. They can think using images and automatically can remember some events or situations with the use of the images in their minds. They can better express themselves by the use of drawing or painting rather than words. (Faherty 2006, p. 70)

- Music

Autistic people love the listening of music. A lot of them can develop excellent skills in singing or playing of an instrument.


- They cannot understand why people lie

- They say exactly what they think

- They stick loyally by people


- Programme / Timetable

Daily programme is very important for people with autistic spectrum disorders. Unanticipated events and surprises can create anxiety increasing the abnormal behaviour. (Faherty 2006, p. 31)

- They like to know what to expect during the day

- They dislike deviation from the routine and may become upset from last minute changes

Literal Thinking

- Things that the autistic person listens are taken in a very literal sense

- Difficulty in understanding of metaphor and implied meaning

- Dislike ambiguity

Sensory sensivity

- They are far more sensitive to sensory input than other people

- They may found some certain sensory inputs such as sound, light or taste so unpleasant to the point of being torturous

- They may be physically hurt if they are touched


- Bright or flickering lights can be unbearable but also may be fascinated by certain lights

- They may find physically unpleasant to read certain texts

- They may become overwhelmed by being looked at


- Sudden or loud noises can be unbearable or highly distracting

- They may hear things before other people

- They can hear things that other people cannot or do not notice


- They may dislike the feel of certain fabric or clothing

- They may found unbearable to be touched

Poor sense of orientation, direction & distinguishing

- They need a lot of visual landmarks for their directions. However, all the people with autism can develop excellent long-term memory of a place when some landmarks are established. If they once familiarize themselves with those landmarks, they are able to instantly find the way next time

- They can find hard to distinguish an object from the background

- The have difficulties working out proximity of objects

- They have difficulties in identifying the difference between similar objects

- They can find extremely difficult to process aural and visual information at the same time (e.g. to look at someone when talking)

- They can have some difficulty going downstairs because of visual disorientation (Winter 2003, p. 14-27)

What we have to know about

Behavioural Characteristics

The Egocentric Identity

The autistic individual seems to live in his own world. He looks to be indifferent to other people or objects in his environment. He usually ignores the presence of his mother seeking the loneliness. When there is an attempt for communication the autistic person reacts in an anxious and intensive way. As much as we insist for this contact the reactions are getting more and more intensive. However, the autistic person can effectively communicate with other people through an activity or a play. If once accept a person, he establishes communication with him and it is difficult to change or accept another person. Autistic individual systematically avoids the communication with people at the same age. Especially autistic children are annoyed because they cannot bear the noisy playing and attempts for communication.

Need for no change

The autistic individual becomes very anxious when things change around him and he reacts in an intensive way. These changes can include the people that they are dealing with him, changes in relation to his belongings. He usually gets annoyed from the changes of some details in his everyday life. For instance, the change in place of his belongings, the change in his programme or day timetable. The “egocentric character” and the “need for no change” are the two key features of the idiosyncrasy of the autistic people. (Stamatis 1985, p. 21)

Organizing Space

The way in which autistic people “possess” space expresses the primordial need for opposition in change. In the house, they prefer to stay in a specific room and place. Also autistic children prefer to be isolated in a quiet place when they are in the school.

Most of the autistic people are claustrophobic and they cannot bear to be in small spaces. On the other hand when they are in countryside or open spaces they feel very comfortable.

They cannot easily orientate themselves but are able to remember routes. Any changes in these routes confuse and disorientate them. Generally, they like to have and occupy their own space or area but they are not interested to organize it. (Stamatis 1985, p. 29)

Analyzing Visual perception

All the information we have in relation to autistic perception and how they experience the world comes through long-lived scientific observation and evidence by high functioning autistic people. The senses in the autistic and non-autistic people are all integrated, therefore the disorder in one of them can cause disturbance in the other senses.

The vision comprises the dominant sense in human beings, as the 70 - 80 per cent of the sensory information is received through the eyes. Thus, any problems in relation to the process of visual information can influence the general ability of a person and result a variety of different dysfunctions.

In this passage we will analyze the possible visual experiences in autism according to Dr. Bogdashina. Increasing our knowledge in relation to the possible visual input (visual perception) in autistic people, we will be in position to activate the role of architect in the autistic world.

Vision in Fragments

The fragmented vision of autistic people and their inability to process only a limited amount of the sensory information that they receive is known as “stimulus over-selectivity”. This condition of seeing everything in pieces makes the autistic individual to need more time in order to adjust himself in different environments. This fragmented perception also creates different images of the same object when it is viewed from different angles. This effect makes the autistic person see a greater number of objects creating a feeling of insecurity within a chaos of people and objects. VanDealen illustrates this state of fragmentation saying “When I approach a familiar street by accident from an unusual direction, I do not immediately recognize my homely environment”. (VanDalen 1995, p. 12)

Uta Frith in an attempt to explain the phenomenon of fragmentation formulated the theory of the “weak central coherence”. According to Firth's theory the autistic people lack the “built in form of coherence” which means that they see the world less integrated; in an analytical rather that holistic way. Therefore, the related components of a stimulus cannot be processed at once. The inability of perception to see the different objects as integrated parts in the environment makes impossible the interpretation of every situation. Williams (1999) claimed that the place of the objects such as the “on”, “in front of” and “next” forms a conceptually fragmented and unrelated entity. That happens because the presence of a thing seems to have no reality until you directly focus on it.

Consequently, this fragmented perception affects the social communication in autistic people. The autistic individual has a great difficulty to deal with a lot of people because on the one hand they seem to comprise of many unrelated pieces and on the other every motion of these “bits of people” seems to be unpredictable. (

Light Sensitivity

Autistic individual are very sensitive in bright light and direct sunlight. The high level of it can cause visual distortions. Furthermore, the fluorescent light creates similar visual distortion because of the strong reflections on the objects. According to Williams (1996) the fluorescent light can cause the effect of “visual cutting up” which emphasizes the discontinuity in the environment, people and objects.

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