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I bet if the word autism comes out in a conversation, some people might not fully understand what this is. As much as this topic is a mystery to some of us, as much as my desire was to delve into this topic to try to uncover just the first layers and help shed some light on it. According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorder, there are around 400,000 Americans with Autism and according to the National Autistic Society; there are around half a million British people with autism meaning 1 in every 100 citizen – with males standing a higher chance than females – in general; not just in the UK. Given these staggering statistics, one can imagine the importance of this topic in today’s world.
Let’s start our brief journey first by explaining what Autism is. Autism in simple terms is a life-long developmental disability according to the National Autistic Society. And to be very specific, according to Dr. Marwa Saied, the accurate term for this disorder is “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. As the term suggests, autism is a total spectrum with varying degrees of severity. However, subject matter experts have categorized this spectrum – according to Dr. Marwa – into 3 main types:
Where diagnosed children are normal kids with a low degree of repetitive behavior (ex. Humming sounds, flapping hands, etc.). Those children can go to normal schools with a special degree of attention from the parents in setting certain routines and boundaries to their lives. According to the case at hand, high function autistic children may need to be accompanied in schools with Shadow teachers to help them out during classes in understanding words and coping with the teaching pace. Some schools have Learning Resource rooms where subject matter experts are assigned those children to improve their social skills.
Where diagnosed children have a high level of autistic signs, need special medications and have to go to special centers that care for children of special needs.
And these are normal children with one or two autistic signs like a certain monotonous behavior, some difficulties in social interaction and some learning disabilities. However, these children can lead a very normal life and should not be dealt with as children with special needs.
Given that this developmental disorder is – as we said earlier – a spectrum, the signs that those diagnosed children show vary in their severity. However, it is important to clarify that the autistic signs lie in three main areas:
Autistic children have difficulty in interpreting the communication messages that we send and receive as part of our daily interaction with others. For example, according to the National Autistic Society, those children can find it challenging to understand jokes or sarcastic comments, some facial expressions or sounds that we produce sometimes. They sometimes also take rhetorical phrases literally. For example “That’s cool!” might be interpreted by an autistic child as the weather is cool. That is why it is important to teach our children to communicate with their autistic peers a very clear language to avoid any room of mental confusion for those kids. Some autistic children have difficulty in speech and even though they might understand what the communicated message is, some of them might prefer to respond using sign language or visual symbols.
Autistic children have to be taught how to socially interact with others; it does not come naturally to them. For example, you might find a child standing too close to the person next to him/her as they are unable to interpret the unwritten social rules that we all have implicitly agreed upon when interacting with each other. Autistic children might also have difficulty understanding the feelings of others or even resort to others for relief. They might as well prefer to remain alone. The absence of those social clues and their interpretation can be the reasons why some cases of autistic children can find it hard to be friends with others.
Social imagination is the innate talent we have by which we can predict the behavior of others as well as playing with abstract ideas and making connections to them. Autistic children have difficulty in “guessing” the thoughts of others, predicting what can happen next and thinking in absolute terms. Their sense of danger might be impaired so they might not understand that running in front of a bus for example might be a threat to their lives. They have a routine inclination with the tendency to repeat their behaviors as well as their approach of doing things once they learn them. That is why it is very challenging for them to cope with “new” situations where they were not taught how to deal or behave in them.
It is very important to note here that autistic children can become very talented if they were developed in one of their five senses; their care givers detect an edge in. Even though some autistic children are hypo-sensitive which means that one or more of their five senses might be impaired like not feeling pain or extremes of temperature, yet other autistic children are characterized by being hyper-sensitive which means that one or more of their senses are better developed than the normal children. For example an autistic child might be able to hear a background sound as too loud where his/her normal peer can just ignore it. Those hyper-sensitive children – if well taken care of and well monitored by their care givers and in the Resource Learning centers that we talked about earlier – can become musicians, painters or composers according to which of their senses was better developed.
Parents doubting the behavior of their children in any of the areas that we mentioned above as early as possible – according to Dr. Marwa – have to immediately check with Child Psychiatrists or Development and Behavior Pediatricians. These are subject matter experts in the field who through Cognitive Behavior Psychodynamic Therapy can accurately diagnose the children and prescribe what is best for them both on the medication side as well as the best manner to deal with those children to better socially integrate them in the world.
It is very important as well not to neglect the siblings of children with autistic symptoms as they might develop feelings of jealousy towards their autistic brothers or sisters especially when they notice their parents giving them more attention and care. According to Dr. Marwa, Child Psychiatrists conduct special sessions to those normal children to make them understand – in their own language – what the true condition of their autistic siblings is and how they themselves can help their parents in providing the care and attention they need to help them throughout life.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder is very important to discover as early as possible in the lives of our children. The early the diagnosis is, the better chances parents stand to improve the conditions of their children. Going to the right subject matter experts and following their recommendations would help a great deal as well in integrating autistic children in our world and turn them into gifted human beings!