Autism is quite common and yet the average person knows little to nothing about this developmental disorder. Autism was thrust into the spotlight in the last decades due to the myth that it is caused by vaccines. Although we still do not know the cause of autism, health experts from all over the world agree that there is no credible link between autism and vaccines and that childhood and adult vaccines help to save lives. The prevalence of autism has been rising steadily in the US since 2000 but this is largely due to the increasing awareness of the condition. It is important to understand autism so that we can offer our help and support as a community.
6 Things Everyone Should Know About Autism
Autism is a huge spectrum
People who were introduced to autism through the move ‘Rain man’ assume that people with autism are geniuses. However, autism is called a spectrum disorder because of the wide variation in the severity and the types of symptoms that autistic individuals experience. If you’ve interacted with one person with autism, don’t expect that another person with autism will exhibit similar behaviors. People with autism often communicate, interact and behave in ways that are different from most people and children often learn in ways that are different from other kids. Understanding these differences will provide caregivers alternative methods to help their child learn. It will also help us integrate individuals with autism in society.
Children with autism usually have sensory issues
Our five senses work together to help us perceive and make sense of the world around us. People with autism are often hypersensitive which means that they are more sensitive to one or more types of stimuli including sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, balance, (proprioception body awareness). To get an idea of what this would be like, imagine living in a world where every sound is ten times louder than usual – it’s easy to see why autistic individuals suffer from sensory overload. In fact, parents often use noise dampening ear plugs and nose plugs in order to help reduce sensory input.
Autistic individuals often exhibit repetitive behavioral patterns
For many autistic people, their reality is a jumble of unrelated events, sounds and lights – similar to being in a funhouse where the entire environment is distorted and confusing. In order to combat the resulting fear and anxiety, autistic individuals use repetitive behavioral patterns such as rocking and hand-flapping and ritualistic behavior to help them stay calm. If they are unable to follow their pattern, they are likely to experience anxiety and anger and may even have a meltdown. If you have a coworker who is on the spectrum, understand and respect the importance of his rituals to him. For instance, if you have lunch together at a specific time every day, make sure that you are always on time.
People with autism often have difficultly decoding social cues
We tend to “pick up” social skills in the same way that we learn language, naturally through usage. This allows us to understand what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. People with autism have a tougher time interpreting nonverbal communication in social settings. Autistic children are likely to be brutally honest which can come across as cruel and mean. Autistic people often have the desire to interact with others but they may not know how to engage in conversation. Children with autism can benefit from social skills development, especially through direct and explicit instructions.
Anxiety is common in young people with autism
Approximately 40% of young people with autism have at least one anxiety disorder or suffer from clinically elevated levels of anxiety. It is important to recognize the early signs of anxiety in children with autism because if it is left untreated, it can lead to depression, aggression and self-injury. Anxiety can also trigger social withdrawal and repetitive behaviors. This anxiety can manifest as obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety or phobias. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help to reduce anxiety in those with high functioning autism.
It’s more common that you might think
Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and boys are almost 5 times more likely to be affected compared to girls. In most cases, autism symptoms emerge gradually over the first eighteen months of life. Children with autism may be nonverbal even at age 4 but studies show that eventually, almost half will learn to speak fluently.
Autism is not degenerative and many individuals continuously improve throughout their lives. Individualized services and opportunities for supported inclusion can help them develop their social skills and communicate more effectively with others. Autism awareness campaigns help to educate the public about autism and the difficulties that people with autism face. These campaigns also teach people what they can do to help and support autistic family members, friends or coworkers. Most importantly, it is important to keep in mind that children and adults with autism may seem uncaring but this is far from the truth – they often care deeply but do not manifest their feelings outwardly through their words or facial expression.