“Anita starts fondling materials of certain textures, seemingly, without regard for where and on whom the fabric may be located”; “Vansh sometimes asks the same question over and over again, even when he had been given the answer”; “Suhas suddenly starts flapping his arms for no particular reason, and goes on for over five minutes without stopping”
These are descriptions of certain behaviours observed in people/children living with Autism.
The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not just a single disorder
The word “spectrum” refers to a wide range of symptoms and severity. ASD impacts the way the brain is wired and this difference in wiring can make people in the spectrum good at certain tasks that others find difficult, such as, maths, music or arts. It can also do the opposite, where they find the activities that other people find easy, incredibly difficult, such as socializing and making friends. As per a report published in 2018, one in 59 children will be diagnosed with ASD. Signs usually become evident in children by 2 years of age.
Children/ adults in the spectrum experience difficulties in three main areas – communication, social interaction and behaviour.
Following are some symptoms and types of behaviors seen in people diagnosed with ASD:
- Failing to, or being slow to respond to someone calling their name
- Resists cuddling and holding and seems to prefer playing alone, retreating into his or her own world.
- Makes little eye contact and lacks facial expression
- Doesn’t speak or has delayed speech, or loses previous ability to say words or sentences.
- Can’t start a conversation or keep one going
- Difficulty in understanding simple questions or directions.
- Limited or no expression of emotions or feelings and appears unaware of others’ feelings.
- Repetitive behaviours like repeating words or phrases.
- Intense and lasting interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts.
- Getting upset by slight changes in a routine.
- Being more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input, such as light, noise, clothing, or temperature.
The person experiencing Autism Spectrum Disorder has no control over any of these but is often and easily judged by others to be stoic, uncaring, self-centered or many other unkind and unfair ways.
Alongside these symptoms most people experiencing Autism Spectrum Disorder also have to deal with biomedical problems like Seizure disorders, Gastrointestinal disorders, Psychiatric disorders, Metabolic conditions, Sleep irregularities and Obesity. However, these issues often go unaddressed and can aggravate behaviours that seem inappropriate.
As humans, our senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) are constantly sending information to our brain about our surroundings and about other people. This helps us to choose appropriate responses. And yet to cope with situations that feel uncomfortable or chaotic, each of us develop behaviours that help to calm us down, like fidgeting, biting nails or running our hand through the hair. In Autism Spectrum Disorder where the brain and its senses don’t communicate well, the brain can become overwhelmed and confused, impacting how the person sees the world. People in the spectrum may try to cope with a sensory overload like bright lights or loud sounds, smells or touch (which may feel normal to others, but extreme to them) by rocking themselves, flapping hands, swaying, spinning or doing a number of other things. These actions may seem unusual to others but it is just their way of trying to feel calm. When you see them this way, it means that they are having a hard time.
The kind thing to do is NOT to make it harder for them by getting angry, or ignoring or mocking them. Instead they need friends and family who take the time and patience to understand them and support them.
When in the spectrum, one may often have a difficult time understanding and processing societal norms, especially in terms of social interactions. It doesn’t mean that they are immature or that they don’t care. All it means is that sometimes they don’t know how they are supposed to act or respond. Impatience and misunderstanding by others can often leave people in the spectrum, feeling lonely, anxious and isolated.
They are not ill or broken.
They don’t need fixing.
They just have a different way of experiencing things around them and a unique view of the world. Contrary to popular belief people experiencing ASD also have feelings and care for others. They may not be able to pick up sarcasm but often make some of the best and most honest friends.
“I don’t want to be autistic. But I am, so don’t be mad. Be understanding.” – Carly Fleischmann
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