#WorldAutismAwarenessDay: Are You Wearing Blue?
World Autism Awareness Day
Understanding And Compassion, As With All Things, Leads To Growth
According to the Autism Society, 1 in 68 children will be born with autism or have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In the United States, that means around 4.8 million people are likely to have autism or ASD. In Canada, that means around 500,000 people are affected by autism or ASD. This is all presupposing I have my math right, but I digress.
Regardless, many individuals who have autism or ASD might struggle with fitting in. While there is no one "type" of person that you can point to as having autism or ASD, there is no denying that very often, those with autism are the ones who are seeming like they are on the outside looking in. Their behaviors, their mannerisms, and other symptoms can mean that there are those in society who look at them with a questioning brow and not quite sure how to deal with them.
Can you imagine what sort of world that is? It's painful.
I remember in 1988 when I "encountered" my first person with autism. Why do I put that in quotation marks? The person I encountered was Raymond Babbitt, aka the titular "Rain Man," in Barry Levinson's Academy Award winning film Rain Man. While Dustin Hoffman, who portrayed the character, certainly deserves every accolade he earned from the film, it isn't the most accurate portrayal of someone with autism. It was the stereotype that existed in the media for years, though, and a "definition" of sorts for some who quite simply couldn't understand what autism is or what it meant for the person with it.
The DSM-V, the bible that is frequently used in the diagnosis of conditions like autism and countless others, is the go-to to confirm a diagnosis of autism or ASD, but it's frequently the parents that might see delays in development in their children, including speech or social delays. However, there are also times where parents and other caring adults might miss potential signals that the child has autism or ASD, particularly if there are other medical conditions that are appearing alongside, like apraxia, which is not a symptom of autism but a separate medical condition in its own right.
As with many other medical conditions, autism is frequently a condition that does not appear just on its own. There are some co-occurring medical conditions that might appear alongside a diagnosis of autism or ASD, including but not limited to epilepsy, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal abnormalities, immune dysregulation and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
All of this means that those with autism or ASD - as well as their parents or other caring people in their lives - may find there's a host of struggles to deal with beyond a "simple" diagnosis of autism. According to the Interactive Autism Network,
"An infant seems uninterested in making eye contact, never smiles, or can’t bear to be held. A toddler rocks in a corner, watching his own fingers flick before his face in seeming fascination, oblivious to a parent’s attempts to engage him."
As a parent, knowing that your child may not want to be held or touched diminishes an entire mode of affectionate contact. That can be devastating for many parents, who dream of having their kids give them a huge hug and kiss at the end of a hard day of work. These are possible symptoms of autism because people with autism and ASD often have a hard time interpreting the social cues and connections that occur on a day-to-day basis. To an extent, that means that parents and teachers - among others in the child's life - have to learn a new way to connect as a result. Once they find that way to connect with the child with autism or ASD, that does not mean the challenges that come with parenting or teaching are eliminated.
In working with individuals with autism or ASD, as is the case with working with most individuals, understanding and compassion are key. Sometimes, we may not understand that individuals with autism thrive with routine, or when those routines are thrown off even slightly, why they struggle and potentially get angry. We may not always understand why they say or do certain things.
What I've learned is, and it is only my experience, that people with autism or ASD have a different perception of their world and how they interact with it. Some individuals with autism are some of the most creative, innovative people I know, and while I may not always understand their particular approach to their world, it is their approach, and I respect them for it.
Shouldn't we all do the same?