Autism, We have all heard of it. We all think we know what it is, but do we really?
As outsiders, most of the time we can watch someone in the way they talk, walk, act or behave and label them as Autistic. We consider ourselves able to detect it because we have seen “rain man” or “mercury rising” for example.
I want to acknowledge that there’s so much more to Autism than meets the eye. Autism affects every individual in a different way. Depending on the individuals own personality and other factors involved like other disabilities, allergies, behaviours, medications, and environments.
You may not realise just how life restricting Autism can be to some people and how others manage perfectly well with it, this is because there is a term called Autistic Spectrum Disorders, meaning there are varying levels of Autism.
The Autistic spectrum hosts a range of conditions listed as pervasive developmental disorders , these include Autism, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and Rett syndrome. These disorders are typically characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviours and interests, and in some cases, cognitive delays.
Autism is characterized by delays or abnormal functioning before the age of three years in one or more of the following domains: social interaction, communication and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities.
Asperger syndrome can be distinguished from autism by the lack of delay or deviance in early language development.Additionally, individuals with Asperger syndrome do not have significant cognitive delays. Other symptoms include repetitive routines or rituals, peculiarities in speech and language, inappropriate affect or social behaviour, problems with non-verbal communication, and clumsy or uncoordinated motor movements.
As you can tell there is more to knowing about Autism than meets the eye. And i’m sure those that have suffered with it or cared for someone with ASD will agree that it is a most complex and detailed disability.
While a specific cause or specific causes of autism spectrum disorders has yet to be found, many risk factors have been identified in research that may contribute to the development of an ASD. These risk factors include genetics, prenatal factors, neuroanatomical abnormalities, and environmental factors. Probably the most damaging claim regarding autism is the “vaccine controversy” It has been suggested that autism results from brain damage caused by the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Although there are still no scientific results to prove this theory yet, I know some families who will insist their children were developing perfectly normally before the vaccine and went downhill afterwards- loosing the ability to maintain eye contact and loosing speech.
As if Autism spectrum disorders weren’t hard enough to cope with, they also tend to be highly linked with other disorders, the most common medical condition occurring in individuals with autism spectrum disorders is epilepsy, which occurs in 11-39% of individuals with ASD. Learning disabilities are also highly linked with individuals with an ASD. Approximately 25-75% of individuals with an ASD also have some degree of learning disability.
The main treatment is to lessen associated deficits and family distress, and to increase quality of life and functional independence to the individual. No single treatment is best and treatment is typically tailored to the individuals needs. Intensive, sustained special education programs and behaviour therapy early in life can help children acquire self-care, social skills, and job skills. Available approaches include applied behaviour analysis (ABA), structured teaching, speech and language therapy, social skills therapy, and occupational therapy.
Controversies have surrounded various claims regarding autism spectrum disorders. In the 1950s, the “refrigerator mother theory” emerged as an explanation for autism. The hypothesis was based on the idea that autistic behaviours stem from the emotional frigidity, lack of warmth, and cold, distant, rejecting demeanour of a child’s mother.Naturally, parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder suffered from blame, guilt, and self-doubt, especially as the theory was embraced by the medical establishment and went largely unchallenged into the mid-1960s. While the “refrigerator mother theory” has been rejected in the research literature, its effects have lingered into the 21st century. I’ve had the experience of working with a lot of individuals and families of individuals who have ASD. I am no scientist however firstly I would like to state that how can ASD behaviours stem from the way in which a mother nurses and raises her children? Firstly any mother who has a child with ASD will tell you how hard it is and how guilty you feel without the judgement from the rest of the world, and secondly, if this was the reason why have some parents had 3 or 4 children, raised them all equally and yet only one is diagnosed with a type of ASD?
One in 88 American children is diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder, according to the Disease Control and Prevention centre, so don’t you think we all should know a little more about it?
Naughty, challenging, dis-respectful, anti-social – these are the terms most commonly issued to people who suffer from ASD. But why? Because most people still don’t assume that individuals with ASD should be out of the house attempting to live a normal life whilst being forgiven or overlooked for their mistakes in behaviour, social skills or language.
We are still such an ignorant race assuming that everyone we come across will always be fully in control of their feelings, behaviours and languages etc. but the truth is quite opposite.
To someone with autism simple tasks like going to a café to eat, can become most challenging. They have not only to focus on the task in hand but put up with distress factors as well – for example bright industrial lighting, noise, smells, colours, patterns or layouts of an area and other sensory factors.
I taught one girl who had Autism when she was between the ages of 3-6, and for her, sensory overload was one of the things that upset her the most, at times when she was affected she had no control over how she reacted to this distress. Methods of coping for her included screaming in a really high pitch, covering her ears and rocking, biting or attacking the person closest to her or running away. She as many suffered with an inability to express herself verbally, so these behaviours were the only way she could let others know that something was wrong.
When this happened in public it used to frustrate me and also upset me at the same time that other people could be so ignorant. I used to have to listen to comments like “we are trying to enjoy a quiet lunch here, do you think you could stop her ruining it for us”, or “for god sake if you can’t control a child why can’t you leave it at home”!!! …….IT, how could someone refer to another human being, and a child as an IT! And why should she have to miss out on the experience of learning and adjusting to this world just because it may have taken her longer than others. The conclusion I came to, is that the not knowing about ASD behaviours and the ignorance others have towards people with ASD, mean that those individuals are the ones distressed by the experience, they are the ones getting upset or angry about people with ASD expressing themselves, and it’s because they make an assumption about an individual without a second thought.
Is it really a wonder therefore why people with ASD who are able to express themselves, don’t do it for fear of embarrassment or being labelled as “stupid”, “weird”, “naughty” or “uneducated” for example?
We live in a society today which has most confused me while I was working with people with ASD. The people I thought would be most supportive of these individuals were the elderly, being able to recognise that if people are less able they should have help, and the once to show the most ignorance or play the “bully” for example would be the kids, but I found it to be quite the opposite. Generally the elderly were the ones showing discomfort and an unwillingness to accept difference in others believing still that individuals with differences should be kept at home out of the public eye where they can be an embarrassment to themselves or others, while the children and teenagers showed a willing to assist where they could, interest in the individuals and seemed generally understanding.
Before I finish, as I could discuss the ins and outs of autistic behaviours all day as it’s so in-depth and fascinating, let me just take the time to congratulate everyone who lives with autism on a daily basis, this includes the individuals themselves as they are the ones who suffer either emotionally, physically or mentally every day, but also the mothers, fathers, siblings who have to compete for attention from birth, learn to accept their brothers or sisters, become full time carers as well, and the care staff. Because what you do every day is full on, upsetting, frustrating and tiring. No one unless in the same situation could ever know or understand how strong you have to be every day.
Let me leave youwith this ever so insightful video about a girl and her families journey through Autism…………… enjoy!