Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees.
Autism Spectrum Disorder exhibits long prevailing differences in communication, interpersonal relationships, and social interaction across different environments
Those on the spectrum may appear to be nonverbal or having atypical speech patterns, having trouble understanding nonverbal communication, difficulty making and keeping friends, difficulty maintaining typical back-and-forth conversational style, restricted and repetitive behavior, patterns, activities and interests.
Also repeating sounds or phrases (echolalia), repetitive movements, preference for sameness and difficulty with transition or routine, rigid or highly restricted and intense interests, extreme sensitivity to or significantly lower sensitivity to various sensory stimuli are some of the features of Autism. Autism is known as a ‘spectrum disorder’ because the severity of symptoms can range from a mild learning and social disability, to more complex needs with multiple difficulties and often very unusual behaviour. Autism results in qualitative impairments. This implies that skills, through present do not develop age appropriately. Therefore, different skills develop at a different pace in different people with autism.
Autism is on a rapid rise worldwide. 10 years ago the number which was 1 in 150, as on date it has rapidly risen to 1 in 59. Autism can happen to anyone – of any gender, class, caste, creed, race or religion..
Some Myths and Realities about Autism
Autism is Mental Illness
It is a permanent neuro-developmental condition (disorder).
Children with autism are ‘stupid, spoilt brats’ or ‘crazy’
They have an entirely differently wired brain because of which their sensory perceptions are different towards experiencing.
Autism has a cure..
It has no cure, since it is not a disease or illness. However systematic structuring is possible, but only to a certain extent.
Autism goes away with time (as children grow)
It is a lifelong condition. Children with autism become adults with autism as they grow up
Autists ignore you
They don’t ignore. Autists want to make friends, but it is difficult for them due to lack of social interpersonal skills. Because of sensory issues, this world becomes overwhelming for them. That’s the reason they need their time alone to cope up when we feel that they are ignoring us. They simply don’t know how to interact.
Autists don’t have feelings and emotions.
Individuals with autism are the most empathetic people you have ever met. They have deep emotions and care for others.
It happens only in the rich or poor. It occurs only in a particular caste or community.
Autism can occur in any community, caste, or creed. It does not recognize financial status.
Autism can happen at any time
Autism occurs due to a mutation in genes which occurs in the mother’s womb during the 3rd month of pregnancy
An autism child grows up into an autist adult. This state of autism can be intervened with the use of various therapies, and the lives of autists can be made more structured enabling them to adapt themselves in the society. These individuals, however, have a trying time to adapt themselves in changing environments. Generally, autists cannot lead a normal life in the society independently. They have to, to a certain extent, depend on others throughout their life-span. The person affected with autism cannot express himself or convey his feelings the way a normal person does. At times they laugh, cry or shout uncontrollably without any apparent reason. If they become oversensitive they can also start throwing and banging things around. They may harm themselves or others without any ill-intention. Autists keep lost in their own world and keep playing by themselves as they are unable to communicate or interact with the peer groups. Lack of eye contact can be considered as one of the key factors while identifying autism. They can’t communicate like neuro-typical individuals, nor are they able to express, their anxiety, fear, happiness, anger, or grief. They can’t express their feelings corresponding to the situation. Since they are either hypersensitive or hyposensitive, they cannot adapt themselves in the social environment. What appears to be ‘wrong’ to you, may be just ‘right’ for them. Autism requires a systematic medical diagnosis before it is declared. Autism spectrum disorder impacts the nervous system and affects the overall cognitive, emotional, social and physical health of the affected individual. The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely. There can be behavioural issues like inappropriate social interaction, poor eye contact, compulsive behaviour, impulsivity, repetitive movements, self-harm, or persistent repetition of words or actions. The individual can experience developmental issues like delayed developmental milestones, and learning disability. Cognitive issues like obsessive interest in a limited number of things or problem in paying attention are displayed. The individual can display psychological symptoms like inability of recognize or understand the emotions or others. In some cases, the individuals can get into depression. The other common symptoms in this disorder are anxiety, sensitivity to sound, or touch. Autism might require an array of therapies depending on how severely the individual is affected, and which area needs to be worked upon. Early diagnosis and intervention is advisable. Behavioural, educational and family therapies get into place as the child grows up. There are therapies like Anger Management, Family Therapy, Applied Behaviour Analysis, Behaviour Therapy, Sensory Processing, Animal Assisted Therapy, Issues pertaining to Autism need to be addressed by Developmental Pediatricians, Clinical Psychologists, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Behaviour Interventionists, Neurologists and Psychiatrists.
Autism is known as a ‘spectrum disorder’ because the severity of symptoms can range from a mild learning and social disability, to more complex needs with multiple difficulties and often very unusual behaviour. Autism results in qualitative impairments. This means that in a person with autism, skills do not develop age appropriately. Therefore, different skills develop at a different pace in different people with autism.
Autism may occur alone, or may be accompanied by other co morbid conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Intellectual Disability (previously known as Mental Retardation), Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Sleeping Disorder, Seizures and Epilepsy, Learning Disorder (LD), Cerebral Palsy (CP), Fragile X Syndrome, Hearing Impairment, Visual Impairment.
When autism co-occurs with another condition, it should be ensured that the person with Autism and co-morbidities receives the right kind of intervention (taking into account the fact that the person has Autism)
Tips For Parents
- Your child is first and foremost a child, and then an indivisual on the spectrum.
- Enjoy time as much as possible with your child. Observe them, their needs, their learning style, their triggers. Study your child. Build a rapport.
- For better communication, always speak in a calm voice. Keep your sentences short and precise. Preferably use one language initially.
- Do not insist on eye-contact.
- Take lead in the child’s interest for building a better rapport. Give them opportunities to communicate their needs and wants. Give them an array of choices.
- Understand your child’s strengths instead of weaknesses. Reinforce them for their good deeds.
- Keep track of how their child adapts to learning better (visual, kinesthetic or audio cues). Learn about their learning style. Look out for non-verbal cues from your child. An Autic child with limited vocabulary mostly uses sounds, expressions, gestures, and body language to communicate his needs.
- Understand your child’s sensory integration perceptions (touch, smell, light or noise) if any.
- Grant your child a predictability by adhering to regular scheduling.
- Use as may visual cues as possible like communication boards and choice boards.
- Give them support of AACs (Alternative Augmentative Communication System) E.g. PECS, Sign Language, etc.
Why you should be aware about Autism…. It is the very human right of autists to be accepted by the society.
Autism is the second largest concern globally (Cancer being the first) that the world is struggling with. At least 10 Million children in India have Autism. It can be both genetic and non-genetic (like diabetes). There are chances that autism occurs due to heavy metal (mercury or lead) poisoning or due to radiations, but the same are yet to be proven. Since the reasons are unknown, there is no cure for it. It is still a puzzle for doctors. Research is still in process to study the causes. Once the causes are found, cures, or precautions would surely follow. But till that time WE have to cope up with the situation.
It is quite possible that you may come across an autist individual… maybe in your own family, or your friend’s family, or just someone in your social circle. But then you need to accept these individuals as a part of the society. It is their very human right. You may find their behaviour odd at times but then you need to understand that they are just different due to their different ‘circuitry’.
What is expected from you (Some DOs and DON’Ts that would help you to ease out the situation) even if you are not parents of an autism affected child:
Feel responsible as an alert citizen, when you see an autist child or adult in unusual circumstances or a difficult situation (wandering or getting assaulted) even if you are not a special parent.
Don’t run away from or neglect such individuals or incidents happening with them. It could happen to any of your family members as well.
Accept autists as they are (recognize their individual status), not the way you want them to be, and treat them with dignity and respect.
Don’t forget that they are humans first and have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.
Understand that Autism is not a mental illness.
Don’t treat them as if they are mentally ill.
Treat them as normal individuals keeping in mind that they are differently able. They are no less than you.
Don’t treat them as abnormal, or as if they deserve to be packed off to an asylum.
Be patient with autists. Try to understand and respect them. Accepting and respecting autists itself is enough.
Don’t abuse them verbally, physically, or emotionally. Don’t stare at them inappropriately.
Stop children and youngsters from teasing or disrespecting persons with autism. Teach them to become responsible citizens and gain respect by respecting autists as normal human beings.
Don’t make fun of autists or support those who are making fun of them.