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Autism: A Fascinating Tragedy

Updated on November 11, 2013

Connecting With Autistic People

Understanding Autism

In most cases, the way autistic people interact with others is not normal, nor is their method of speaking or communicating in other ways. Autistic people often repeat the same things, over and over again. They have characteristic behavior and unique ways of speaking.

Medical science itself, for all its amazing advances, still does not have a clear grasp of the causes of autism or the cure, if there is one. Autism is rare, but not that rare. In a group of one million people, there might be about one thousand or two thousand with autism.

For some reason, it's mostly males who are autistic. They outnumber autistic females four to one.

America, strangely, has many more people diagnosed with autism than other countries, either because there are more autistic people in America, or because other countries do not have doctors making the diagnosis as often as American doctors. The rate of autistic people in America is ten to twenty times higher than the worldwide rate. This means in a city of one million people in America there will be, on average, 10,000 to 20,000 autistic people. The number of people diagnosed with autism by American doctors has doubled in the last five years. But because financial assistance is available through the government for families with autistic dependents, some of the American diagnoses might be influenced and encouraged by monetary considerations.

Normally, children two years old and younger show signs of autism. It seems tragic, but many people now believe that autism is something people can live with all their lives, and that the autistic person should not be treated as a disabled individual who has a mental problem that makes him or her incompetent and incapable of handling situations that normally require ordinary skills.

Repeated motions or interactions, and other out of the ordinary behavior, characterize the autistic person. Autistic people usually have a hard time understanding why so-called normal people act and talk the way they do. Because they really can't understand other people very well, autistic people don't connect closely with normal people as a rule.

The tragedy is that autistic people are alone much of the time because they have trouble relating to others. But there are fascinating things. Autistic people love order for some reason and take great pleasure in lining up objects or stacking them neatly.

In the Hollywood movie "Rainman" starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, Rainman (Hoffman) was Cruise's autistic brother, Raymond, who had uncanny abilities in math and other useful skills. But this is not typical of autistic people. Perhaps only ten percent, or less, of autistic people have these amazing skills or other highly impressive abilities.

Nor are autistic people extremely highly sensitive as a rule. There are many undesirable traits to deal with. They tend to be uncoordinated in their movements, and unnatural in their body shapes. Many times there are eating disorders as well.

The fact that brothers and sisters of autistic people tend to have a much higher chance of also being autistic hints at some genetic connection, but doctors still are uncertain of the cause. Parents of autistic people tend to be normal and not have autism themselves.

Autism is a disorder associated with the brain. Since people all over the world are fascinated by the abilities of the human mind, autism is a disease that inspires great curiosity.

Epilepsy, another disease of highly dramatic characteristics that mystify the general population, is often associated with autism. Likewise, autistic people range very widely as to how obvious their abnormalities are. This is why many appear to be practically normal, while others are immediately recognized as having some disorder.

A tragedy is that treatment of autistic people is uncertain as to producing beneficial results. The cure is not known. But kindness and interaction through concentrating on the same thing as another person who accompanies that autistic one have good results both for the patient and his or her family.

Sleep problems in autistic people are so prevalent that researchers have developed theories for causes and cures related to other factors that result in trouble sleeping. But like many hypotheses about autism, this too remains to be proven.

Although "autism" may have existed for as long as people have walked the earth, the word itself is relatively recent, having originated in the Twentieth Century. The root meaning of the word is associated with "self" because early analysts observed that patients appeared withdrawn into themselves more than normal people. This harkens back to the tragic trait of loneliness that takes most of the glamor out of autism for outside observers who are fascinated by it.

More scientific reading on autism can be found at

Hollywood Takes On the Subject of Autism

The Fascination Inspired by Autism

True to form, the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 movie "Rainman" was self-absorbed. He was autistic. Dramatically contrasted was his so-called normal brother played by Tom Cruise, another self-centered person, but in an opposite way that qualified as acceptable behavior in the aggressive world of salesmanship.

The saving grace of the movie, which led to proceeds upwards of 350 million dollars, is the same as the human connectivity that some therapists and teachers have achieved through their innate kindness and understanding of autistic patients. The selfish brother's arrogance is softened and warmed by his increasing appreciation of his autistic sibling.

The great drama of the movie takes place when the autistic character displays the rare ability (found in a small percentage of autistic patients) to do mathematical calculations even faster than a calculator. Needless to say, this ability comes in handy in gambling casinos.

The film was so popular that the Academy Awards in 1989 awarded it Best Picture, and Dustin Hoffman Best Actor for portraying the autistic Rainman. Because the film was so spectacular, it made people fascinated with autism, although most do not realize how rare it is that an autistic person will possess the skills of Rainman. It's possible that the film contributed to the financial support from the government for research into autism and assistance for families with autistic members.

For more facts about the film itself, see


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    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

      An informative hub about an interesting and poorly understood disorder. The film is also one of my favorites!

      No surprise about the over-diagnosis in America; evidence yet again of the vested interests of pharmaceutical companies and the American Psychiatric Association.

      Voted up.