Some of us have heard of the term but still don’t know what exactly it entails. To start with, autism spectrum disorder is a range of conditions classified as neurodevelopmental disorders. It is characterized by problems in communication and social interaction and also, restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. This is to say that autistic children experience difficulties in communicating with other people normally and tend to have a pattern of doing things and hence find it hard to embrace change. Normally, parents usually notice signs in the first two or three years of their child’s life.
Some of the early signs of autism include less eye contact with people, failure to turn when name is called, failure to indicate what they want by gestures such as pointing or waving or facial expressions showing emotions. This is often followed by dwindling progress in communication, social and self-independence skills.
Social skills pose the greatest challenges for individuals with autism, because every human being has social needs that demand to be fulfilled. Due to their inability to communicate properly, the tendency to be trapped in their imaginations and other issues sometimes leads to problems with relationships and daily living at large. Majority of the time, they are oblivious of what is happening around them. This gives them difficulties in making and maintaining friendships.
Often children with autism repeat certain words, numbers, or phrases during an interaction that are totally unrelated to the topic of discussion at that point in time.
They also tend to display repetitive behaviors which follow a particular routine such as eating a particular food, following certain rules when dressing, sleeping at a particular time, taking a certain number of steps when walking. Also, when they get nervous, they try to calm themselves by hand flapping or rocking their heads in a particular manner.
Till date, the exact cause for autism is not yet known. But there are postulations that it occurs due to gene mutation or infection with German measles during pregnancy.
The diagnosis for autism and its treatment isn’t based on cause but on the symptoms displayed by the individual.
Autism has no cure but children can be properly followed up to improve their standards of life.
The main goals when treating children with autism are to lessen their deficiencies, to increase quality of life and functional independence. No single treatment is best and treatment is typically tailored to the child’s needs. Family attention and special education are the best avenues for therapy. Intensive special education programs and behavioural therapies early in life can help children acquire self-care, social, and job skills, and often improve functioning and decrease the severity of their maladaptive behaviors.
Some of the ways we can help autistic people adapt better to life is by:
1. Using short phrases to communicate with them. For example: Instead of saying, “put on your shirt now“, you could say “shirt on”
2. Make use of exaggerations when communicating with them. For example, when trying to show how painful something is, you say “ouch” loudly
3. Try to engage them in conversations regularly.
4. Speak slowly to them.
5. Expose them to other kids so they could better understand how emotions work when amongst a group of people.
6. Try to listen to them and hear them out. Try to understand how they view the world.
7. Make use of gestures, facial expressions and signs when communicating with them.
8. Also, giving them chances to exhibit independence will go a long way in improving their self-care skills.
9. Most importantly, visibly show them your love, acceptance and care.
The major problem is that in our typical Nigerian society which has been clouded by ignorance, many people have failed to realize what autism actually is. Some parents who notice these symptoms all of a sudden assume that their children are possessed or one other belief based on ignorance.
Parents and everyone should know that autism doesn’t mean you will be useless. It can be managed. Our society needs to inculcate the culture that autistic people can be successful. Autism should be accepted in the society as not a disease but a difference.
They can fit into our society. They are still human beings. But our concerted efforts are needed. We need to wipe away the ignorant belief that autistic people can’t function. True, they may be a bit different and experience some difficulties, but with proper care, they can rise above their weaknesses. Some autistic people have made it in this world such as the popular Temple Grandin, a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. In her words,
“I have read enough to know that there are still many parents, and yes, professionals too, who believe that ‘once autistic, always autistic.’ This dictum has meant sad and sorry lives for many children diagnosed, as I was in early life, as autistic. To these people, it is incomprehensible that the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled. However, I feel strongly that I am living proof that they can.”
This is proof that autistic people can make it in life. Temple amongst many others have made it in different spheres of life such as Alexis Wineman, Heather Kuzmich, etc. Even the famous Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein showed signs of autism. But still, they excelled in life and propounded brilliant theories on which most innovations in this world are founded on. And I forgot to mention that Mozart Wolfgang who was well known for his excellent opera and symphony pieces in classical music.
We need to sound it everywhere that:
“Autism isn’t a disability but a different ability”-Stuart Duncan.
Discrimination against Autism should be put to a stop. People must be aware and only we can inform them. Together, we can integrate them into our society and help them achieve their dreams.
So I encourage everyone reading this to join us in the walk to making our society a more comfortable place for people with autism. There’s no better way to be relevant in our society than offering a voice to the marginalized. Let’s be their voice and enable them develop the confidence that every human is entitled to.
Autistic people can rise above their limitations and I leave us with these words by Kerry Magro:
“Autism can’t define me. I define Autism”
Let’s give autistic kids the confidence that they can rise above their limitations.
Happy Autism Awareness Month!
Author: Okeke Sophia Udochi