April is Autism Awareness Month
Around the world iconic buildings were bathed in blue light a week or so ago to signal the start of Autism Awareness Month. You may wonder why we need a such a month - to put it simply - although it is a common disorder of childhood, there is a lot of ignorance and misconception by many in the medical and education professions as well as the general public.... and that makes parents' battles harder than ever.
So in my very small way I ask you to read some simple facts about autism and maybe even look up your local autism association for futher reading. Chances are someone you know is affected by autism.
Autism is a 'Spectrum' Disorder
People with autism can be a little autistic or very autistic. Thus, it is possible to be bright, verbal, and autistic as well as mentally retarded, non-verbal and autistic. A disorder that includes such a broad range of symptoms is often called a spectrum disorder; hence the term "autism spectrum disorder." The most significant shared symptom is difficulty with social communication.
Autism is not a behavioural, mental health or emotional disorder. It is neuro-developmental.
If you've seen a TV show about autism, you may think you know what autism "looks like." In fact, though, when you've met one person with autism you've met ONE person with autism. Some people with autism are chatty; others are silent. Many have sensory issues, gastrointestinal problems, sleep difficulties and other medical problems. Others may have social-communication delays - and that's it.
It is true that a few autistic people are “savants.” These individuals have what are called “splinter skills” which relate only to one or two areas of extraordinary ability. By far the majority of autistic people, though, have ordinary or even less-than-ordinary skill sets.
There is presently no cure for autism. That's not to say that people with autism don't improve, because many improve radically. But even when people with autism increase their skills, they are still autistic, which means they think and perceive differently from most people. Treatments may be biomedical, sensory, behavioural, developmental or even arts-based. Depending on the child some will be more successful than others. The earlier the condition is diagnosed and intervention starts, the better the outcome.
Theories about possible causes of autism range from mercury in infant vaccines to genetics to the age of the parents to almost everything else. At present, most researchers think autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors - and it's quite possible that different people's symptoms have different causes. Autism spectrum disorders are increasing and it is not just due to better diagnosis. No one knows why but better and early diagnosis can only account for a small fraction of the increase.
Autism is usually a lifelong diagnosis. For some people, often (but not always) those who receive intensive early intervention, symptoms may decrease radically. People with autism can also learn coping skills to help them manage their difficulties and even build on their unique strengths. But a person with autism will probably be autistic throughout their lives.
Even "high functioning" autism is challenging for parents. "Low functioning" autism can be overwhelming. Families may be under a great deal of stress, and they need all the non-judgemental help they can get from friends, extended family, and service providers.
Can you imagine caring for a child who is unable to communicate his needs but will have a massive meltdown when his needs aren't met or is overwhelmed by his surroundings? Now add the disapproving stares and comments from strangers who tell you to control your child.
The media is full of stories about autism, and many of those stories are less than accurate. For example, you may have heard that people with autism are cold and unfeeling, or that people with autism never marry or hold productive jobs. Many are far more empathetic than the average person, though they may express their empathy in unusual ways. Many will make eye contact, show affection, smile, laugh, and express emotions though perhaps in varying degrees. Since every person with autism is different, "always" and "never" statements simply don't hold water. To understand a person with autism, it's a good idea to spend some time getting to know him or her – personally.
It may seem that autism is a wholly negative diagnosis. But almost everyone on the autism spectrum has a great to deal to offer the world. People with autism are among the most forthright, non-judgemental, passionate people you'll ever meet.
How do I know these things?
Even as a health professional, I was not aware of many of these facts about autism.
I did my training quite a few years ago.
But since my grandson was diagnosed, I have done a lot of reading.....
and that's why my garden has turned blue.