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Michael's Story

A Case Study in Autism


Kristen N. Hausmann
Department of Biology
Coastal Carolina University
Karen M. Aguirre
Department of Biology
Coastal Carolina University


This interdisciplinary case study introduces us to the Greens, a family with a recently diagnosed autistic child. Autism is one of several disorders grouped within the acronym ASD, or autism spectrum disorders. Autistic children have problems with communication (both verbal and nonverbal) and social interactions with parents, siblings, other children, teachers, etc. The “spectrum” in ASD refers in part to the range in autistic individuals of disability, from mild autism, which may appear as eccentric behavior, to severely disabling autism, which renders the individual unable to learn, socialize, or work in the world. In working through this case, students engage in a variety of activities to learn about the possible causative explanation for autism, its diagnosis, and treatment. A final activity is an optional writing exercise exploring the idea that there is intrinsic value in all persons' experiences, including those who are "different." Designed to interest general biology students as well as students of psychology and health studies, this case is particularly useful for introducing students to the tasks and concerns of several biomedical professionals.


  • Compare normal and abnormal child development, especially with respect to autism.
  • Encourage students' tolerance for ambiguity of explanation when it is inappropriate to accept a single hypothesis as true.
  • Analyze and communicate information through visual displays, such as drawings, Venn diagrams, and graphs.
  • Develop reasoning skills, particularly to learn to synthesize information from several sources and plan a course of action that is responsive to and appropriate in light of the information given.
  • Optional Exercise: Promote appreciation for the value of diversity of human experience.


Autism; autistic; autism spectrum disorders; child development; brain function; neuron; synapse; neurotransmitters; serotonin; MMR vaccine; diversity

Topical Areas

Social issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, General public & informal education



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Discussion, Interrupted, Journal Article, Role-Play, Student Presentations



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Psychology  |   Neuroscience  |   Public Health  |   Sociology  |  

Date Posted


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