Autism (or ASD, which stands for autism spectrum disorder) is a lifelong developmental disorder, which usually manifests itself before the age of three.
Persons with autism often do not look or seem “disabled.” Sometimes they may draw attention with their unusual behaviour and reactions, for instance, sudden anxiety or shouting. Autism deficits mostly affect the areas of social interaction, communication, and behaviour, as well as interests and activities. Language development is often delayed, and accompanied with deviances such as automatic repetition of words and phrases (so-called echolalia) or erroneous use of personal pronouns. Children and adults with autism have a limited capability for understanding social situations, they experience problems with social interaction and relationships, they struggle to understand emotions expressed by others, and they may experience learning difficulties.
Early diagnosis increases the chances for appropriate and effective support. With appropriate support, persons with autism are able develop many skills and competencies, and use their full potential in their adult life. With adequate support, even a person with the highest degree of autism-related impairments is capable of learning, gaining relative independence, and leading a valuable, satisfying life.
It is estimated that 5 million people are affected by autism within the European Community. In the USA, the number is estimated at 1.5 million. In Poland, there are no reliable statistics available, but the number is at least 150 thousand, or higher. In Poland, persons with autism more often than not live in dramatically bad circumstances, and are severely disadvantaged.
Only a few per cent of persons with autism in Poland receive any form of assistance. Most of them are subjected to discrimination and social exclusion.