Autism and Autism spectrum disorder are both terms for a group of pervasive developmental disorder that involves abnormal brain development and function. People with autism are characterised into varying degrees by decreased social interaction, verbal or non-verbal communication skills and repetitive or restricted patterns of behaviours or interests.
People with autism interact, learn, communicate and behave differently from and with most other people. Their thinking, learning and problem-solving abilities can range from exceptional to severely challenged. Some autistic people need lots of help in their day to day lives while others need less. It is a lifelong developmental and intellectual disability, but many people on the autism spectrum have exceptional skills and abilities in math, visual skills, arts, music and other academic skills.
Although, there is no single known cause for autism, science, however, points the accusing fingers at the ever guilty ‘genetics’ as scientific studies show that autism is a genetically based condition. Scientists are not sure if environmental triggers may be involved in autism and what they may be if any.
According to a report by Global Autism Network, 70 million people worldwide are on the autism spectrum. This number is even projected to be much higher because of the fact that 85% of the people diagnosed with autism live in developing countries. In other words, there are millions of undiagnosed and unreported cases. This is really worrisome as the number of adults and children on the spectrum continue to increase.
In 1943, Dr Leo Kanner first described autism when he reported on eleven children who showed very high and unusual interest in the inanimate environment but showed a lack of interest in other people. Autism was initially thought to be an early form of schizophrenia, which many people believed could be caused by bad parenting and negative experience. Now we know that this is not the case.
There is nothing about how a person with autism looks that differentiates them from other people. Signs and symptoms of autism tend to start showing between the ages of 2 and 3 years, and they include insistence on the same things, repetitive motor behaviours (like body rocking and hand flapping) and change resistance and in some cases, self-injury and aggression. About 30-50% of autistic people also have seizures.
There is no known ‘cure’ for autism. However, this does not mean that nothing can be done for autistic people. It is not wise to generalise how an autistic person will develop because autism affects different people in different ways hence it is known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder.
Intervention is very important in helping autistic people live an easier life, especially when diagnosed early in life. This is the reason intervention is aimed at children with autism so as to help them grow up to become successful adults. It is important to note that intervention works differently with different autistic people and intervention which works out well with one individual may not be effective with another.
These interventions include physical therapies like;
· Functional Mobility/Motor Planning.
· Gross Motor Skills.
· Balance/Coordination Skills.
· Strengthening muscles for endurance and support.
There are various early intervention types for people living with autism and other developmental disorders, and they might be available in your locality. They include:
· Playgroups, including those run by the Pre-school Learning Alliance.
· Portage Services (education department).
· Child Development Centre groups (health authority or diagnostic team).
· Hanen Programs, run by specially trained language and speech therapists (Health Authority).
· Nursery classes, general or resourced for special needs (Education authority).
Interventions are worth the effort because with proper therapies autistic people can make much progress.
Problems Experienced By Autistic People
Autistic people are engulfed in frustration, despair, and lack of access to sufficient health care and employment amongst several other limitations and problems that sadly includes discrimination and exclusion. There is a majority of autistic adults who are currently underemployed or unemployed. There are no limitations to the type of jobs autistic people are capable of performing. The only real limitations are those members of society who do not really understand what autism is, place on them. We should all try to be inclusive and find a place where we can harness and enhance their talents.
As autism awareness increases around the world, families are adjusting to the demands of caring for an autistic loved one while playing major and key roles in increasing awareness, the continuous struggle for inclusion, sharing of ideas and funding for repudiating social stigmas and research in order to advance the lives of autistic people. Moreover, thinking is also expanding to include the millions of adults on the spectrum and not relegating the disorder exclusively as a childhood disorder. This is because the spectrum is life long and children grow to become adults too.
Around the world, April is recognised as Autism Awareness Month. This is a time of reflection and great anticipation as organisations and families muse upon life without barriers for autistic people. Although, awareness is not limited to one month for families with autistic loved ones who are all too aware of the full autism experience. The education of the rest of the world who are unaware and unfamiliar with autism is the primary benefit of Autism Awareness month.