What Is Autism?

The Many Faces of Autism

His parents called Nathan their "gentle giant." At age six, he was big for his age but wouldn't hurt a fly. He appeared to be shy and fearful at all social activities -- from playing with other kids to looking his mom and dad in the eye. Nathan's favorite activity was jumping on the trampoline all by himself in his backyard. He seemed to live in a world of his own and had never uttered a word in his life.

At age four, Michael could tell you everything about the life cycle and migratory patterns of the monarch butterfly. He'd even taught himself about photosynthesis. Although clearly intellectually gifted, Michael could not hold a two-way conversation. Instead, he preferred to lecture nonstop about a subject with which he was obsessed, such as butterflies or train schedules.

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Samantha, age three, was a bundle of energy -- always racing aimlessly around the house and flapping her hands. She had an uncanny habit of echoing people's language -- using the exact same words and intonation -- and could recite entire passages from a Disney video after having seen it only once.

At age two, Jake, who used to be messy and throw his toys around like most kids his age, was now lining up his trains in perfectly neat rows. He would often take a train, lie down on his belly, and push the train on an imaginary three-inch track, his eyes carefully following the wheels of the train. He could entertain himself in this manner for hours.

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