MOST people only know about an illness, disease or disorder if a friend, or a family member, is afflicted, or if they read up on the facts and information. Today, we are taking a look at autism. In Guyana, there are many undiagnosed autistic adults and children. If you do not know the behaviour and signs that signify autism, you cannot make a judgement call or seek advice or help for an autistic person.
Autistic people DO need help, mostly from those with whom they live. Parents, siblings and members of the community must understand what it is like for the person living with autism; if they could put themselves in his/her shoes for the day, they would see the world in a different light.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a disorder that has no cure; an autistic person will be autistic for the rest of their life. Once autism is diagnosed, a specialist doctor or psychologist can teach parents and autistic children how best to get by in life. As the child grows, aspects of the disorder may improve and be replaced by other difficulties that may arise, especially in adolescence and sometimes in adulthood.
Ordinary, everyday people are known as being neuro-typical; they go about their lives talking, laughing, interacting with others, concentrating, working, feeling emotional, happy, sad, angry, etc. They partake in communication naturally. They use body language, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact without a second thought.
An autistic person is known as being neuro-diverse, which means they understand and experience the world in a different way to others; you could say their brains are wired differently. Some of them avoid eye contact, which could be mistaken for disinterest. Autistic people may find certain smells, textures, materials and certain foods, colours, noises and patterns distressing if they are hypersensitive or on the other hand, they may seek out sensory stimulation through fascination, if they are hypo-sensitive.
These quirks do not mean they cannot function alongside neuro-typical people. Assistance and allowances have to be made for them to perform in mainstream establishments. In contrast, others with severe autism (and related disorders) may need a ‘special school’ and re-occurring visits to doctors or specialists.
Autism is not a single condition; e.g. like deafness, asthma, or diabetes. It is a range of related disorders with shared symptoms. All children with autism will have trouble with communication, behaviour, and lack social skills; making it more challenging for some of them to learn in the same way as everyone else, as learning is achieved mainly through communication.
Autistic children have difficulty processing (understanding) other people’s emotions, thoughts, facial expressions, gestures and body language. Because they cannot process these communicative traits, they cannot learn, mimic, or display the same and often come across as unfriendly, rude, or lacking in empathy because they do not fit into social norms.
Others may criticise some parents for their child’s ‘out of hand’ or ‘strange’ behaviour. Unbeknown to the critique that the child, is autistic and the ‘behaviour’ is a form of communication.
Autistic children can communicate their distress, pain or dislike for things that affect them, using unconventional behaviour. A child might cover his ears and start screaming at the sound of a passing siren, or an extreme example might be a child banging his head against the wall for the same reason. Each autistic child has different symptoms, behaviours and reactions, to what they perceive through their five senses. That is why being on the autistic spectrum cannot be decisive.
Autism is easier to detect in boys than it is in girls and harder to see in babies under one-year-old. Some early signs could be: the baby does not make facial expressions, such as smiling or frowning: the baby does not make eye contact, or follow the parent with his eyes, around the room; the child does not initiate interaction, e.g. cuddles, hugs or kisses.
Autistic people may appear quirky or odd. They may repetitively do things and seem unemotional or distant; content in their own company. They find it hard to make friends or keep up with conversations. Not because they want to be alone or have no wish to be around people, but they cannot process the code of behaviour or social cues (that so many take for granted) and apply them to their advantage (although they can learn how to do this over time).
Some autistic people have a high IQ; they achieve great notoriety in artistry, mathematics, science and other fields. On a chosen topic, an autistic person may speak for hours intellectually, but cannot hold a two-way conversation for one minute. Some autistic people have fantastic memory and problem-solving skills.
Although some adjustments and considerations will have to be put in place for the individual’s care and safety, those with mild to moderate autism need time, space, understanding and tolerance from their families and society, for them to get on in life and fulfil their potential.
Step by Step Guyana is a school for children with autism; you can find out more, along with other information about autism online.
If you are concerned about the welfare of a child call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at email@example.com
A MESSAGE FROM THE CHILDCARE AND PROTECTION AGENCY,
MINISTRY OF HUMAN SERVICES AND SOCIAL SECURITY