3 Things To Know About Autism
1. Autism (ASD) is described as a spectrum disorder.
First and foremost individuals with Autism are just that - individual. Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning that there are a range of different strengths, abilities and challenges people can present. On one end of the spectrum we have 'high functioning' and on the other end we have 'low functioning', individual's traits and behaviours are often placed at certain points within the spectrum for diagnostic, intervention and treatment purposes. However, there is a problem with the linear visualisation the word ‘spectrum‘ presents, see below for a great visual explanation of why.......
Here, we can see there is a wide variety of types and severity of symptoms experienced which highlights the importance of taking time to carefully understand each person's traits and needs. This version of the spectrum is much more inclusive and conveys a whole array of areas the person with autism could have strengths, as well as carefully considering areas of challenge. As the saying goes.....
2. Autism is a developmental disability
Autism is a neurological & developmental disorder and the cause is not entirely known, people with autism have structural differences in their brains. Additionally, genetic disorders have played a part for some. Let us just confirm it is not 'naughty behaviour' or someone being 'difficult'. Their brains have areas of strength and weakness, as we all do, only in people with ASD some of these areas cause challenge. The most common areas of challenge are; communication difficulties, social interaction difficulties and restrictive and repetitive behaviours/obsessions.
There are three levels of autism (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, 2013) which healthcare professionals use to help diagnose people. The lower the level the less support the individual requires. For example, a person with level 1 autism may have mild symptoms and require few supports, levels 2-3 signify moderate to severe and require additional support. Diagnosis can be tricky as some individuals will not clearly fit into a single level. For more information on diagnostic criteria see here.
It can be quite common for some people with autism to have sensory sensitivities such as hearing and sound, which is when ear defenders are useful to block out noise. Keanu doesn't have sensitivity to noise but he loves listening to music to keep him calm, he is often seen rocking his Mickey Mouse Beats, these are Bluetooth and play his favourite movie soundtracks! however when younger he had very particular food sensitivities and didn't like touching soft/wet textures.
Touch is another area which can be sensitive for some and being hugged can be an unpleasant sensation. On the other hand, some crave proprioceptive input; heavy joint and muscle pressure, and so squeezing actions can be very calming for the nervous system. It is important to know traits, symptoms etc really depend on the person!
3. Autism is a lifelong condition.
People do not 'grow out of it' nor is it a 'phase that will pass'. People can often offer well-meaning advice without really being fully aware. However one of the beautiful aspects is with the correct supports in place, in particular early intervention in childhood, many people with ASD thrive in their areas of strength, leading happy and fulfilled lives.
It is fantastic to see the community here in New Zealand doing more for people with diverse needs, for example just recently Te Tuhi cafe has opened in Auckland which employs and trains people with intellectual disabilities. You can read more & donate to wages of this non-profit enterprise here.
Some individuals may need support throughout their lives to assist their living and some may be able to live independently. Having a good support system in place for individuals on the spectrum is vital, this could be in the form of family and/or community support.
Keanu's Story with Autism
Although Keanu doesn't have an offical diagnosis of Autism he displays clear traits. He has difficulty interacting socially and emotionally and doesn't communicate verbally. When he communicates with us it is mostly through showing us or taking us by the hand to what he wants. He has a superb memory for all his favourite things! He has restricted interests in that he loves to stim (repetitive movements) with books and hula hoops and he likes to watch the same things on TV over & over again or listen to the same songs. It can often be challenging to control some of these behaviours as they are quite calming/soothing for him, however we do try to limit them in order to increase his level of interaction when out and about.
Now for a not so nice memory...a distant family member once told me 'what had happened to Keanu was so criminal & such a shame because he was such a handsome boy...'
At the time I just kind of smiled and didn't really know what to say.. This story was from a few years ago, I'm glad to say my mind is in a much stronger place today! What I want to convey is words can hurt and hold meaning beyond our comprehension so always try to offer strength over shortcoming when interacting with families with special needs.
Photo credit: @lifeinaautismworld (Instagram)
Thank you again for reading our blog, we are really enjoying your feedback and connecting with new people all over the world that share common goals. Meeting people, and having the support from those we know, who are wanting to learn more means a lot.
Please don't forget to enter your email in the subscribe bar (in the footer).
Wearing blue for World Autism Day! (April 2)