Autism awareness month is upon us.
I haven’t written in months because I’ve been trying to start my Legal Practice Course in September found out on Monday that I could, which reminded me of the reason I’ve been trying to get this done for the last couple of years. – Chris. I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to follow through with my plans that I lost track of why I was so keen on making them work.
I’ll start off this month with something more general; so what is autism? I found this “easy read” on autism.org.uk by the National Autistic Society.
Fact 1: There are many people with autism in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. More than 1 out of every 100 people has autism – No. 1 in 58 people are on the spectrum in the UK. 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys in the US. A 2012 review of global prevalence estimates of autism spectrum disorders found a median of 62 cases per 10,000 people.(Elsabbagh M, Divan G, Yun-Joo Koh YJ et al.. Global prevalence of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. Autism Res. 2012;5(3):160–79.)
Fact 2: Autism lasts for all of a person’s life. But they can still do a lot of things and learn a lot of skills. Yes. There is no identifiable cause for autism, or a ‘cure’. There is no magic potion, but there is hard work, mountains of patience, love, understanding, education and treatments available that will make a difference. No one understands the significance of a minor behavioural change or reaction like people that live with autism do. There’s speech and language therapy, oxygen therapy, social skills therapy, occupational therapy, specialised diets, classes, case studies, applied behaviour analysis and structured teaching just to name a few. The first time they communicate, the first time they accept a small change, the first time they try something new makes all of this hard work worth it. But most of all, is having a strong support system, a group of people or an individual that is dedicated to them, their well-being and progress. Chris went from throwing tantrum in the supermarket and throwing himself on the floor to a young teen who we can have a conversation with about what he wants, what we want and compromise; most of the time.
Fact 4: They find it difficult to tell people what they need, and how they feel. Yes, but there are many different ways to tackle this. With Chris, we started communicating with him through pictures at first. So, we had a picture of every single thing in our house. He wanted water? Picture. He wanted an apple? Picture. He wanted to play on the computer? Picture. He wanted a specific person? Picture. We had pictures of different facial expressions and feelings which he would use to express himself. Then when he was learning words, we attached words to the pictures until we got to the point where we didn’t need pictures. Chris’ case is not always the case though. There are people on the spectrum that have little or no communication with their surroundings; pictures would still make life a bit easier. It’s work, time and effort but it’s worth it. The trouble with the spectrum is the fact that it is a spectrum. You cannot formulate a universal treatment for them. You cant even teach them in the same way; because every single of them is different.
Fact 5: They find it difficult to meet other people and to make new friends. No. Not because it cant be true, but because the statement generalises them and makes this sound like an autistic trait. I’ve met people on the spectrum that won’t even acknowledge you’re there, and people that will not leave your side as well as everything in between. The same goes for “They find it difficult to understand what other people think, and how they feel.”
Fact 6: Autism is a hidden disability – you can’t always tell if someone has it. Yes. Because the spectrum is so wide and diverse, people can go through life having autism and not realising. When you’ve lived with it, and read everything you could get your hands on about it, it becomes easier to identify. It can be genetic, but not manifest itself in older generations unless you look for it. This also proves that people can live with autism, can work, can marry, can have children, be grandparents and lead a life without special support. Its in hidden signs that you get a peak of autism; like their annoyance when their schedule is changed, being adamant on using a specific brand or route and many more. I often hear people use the phrase “He’s so autistic about that”; they might be. Being autistic is linked to so many myths and misconceptions that the average person will think of a child throwing tantrums, not speaking or making “irregular” hand movements when thinking of autism. No; autism isn’t easy to diagnose or recognise.
Fact 7: Children with autism have been bullied at school. Yes. Why? Because of the wrong information being distributed to the public. Because we hear autistic and think Rain Man. Because we hear Aspergers and think Boston Legal. The saddest thing about this is that children with autism will be bullied by family members as well if they attend the same school. Peer pressure and lack of understanding is literally making their lives difficult. It traumatises them, could make them aggressive or make them seclude themselves.
My experience with the education system and bullying will need a post of its own.
So, in aid of raising awareness for autism this month keep in mind that: that kid on the plane won’t stop crying despite its parents every effort; that teen in the supermarket that stacks shelves so neatly; that adult that skips and hops on the street; they could all be on the spectrum, don’t judge, understand.
Educate yourselves about Autism.