Understanding Autism in children
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THERE are many grown-ups and children in Guyana who may be autistic but have never been diagnosed. If you do not know the behaviour and signs that signify autism, it is impossible for you to make a judgement call or seek advice or help. When one has autism one is known as being on the spectrum because autism covers a range of neurodevelopmental conditions. If a family member has autism, only then do most people learn about the disorder and read up on the facts; but doctors have studied autism for over75 years; it is not a new disorder.

Autism may be mild, moderate or severe but always involves an inflexibility of thought and behaviour therefore autistic people DO need help. The help should come mostly from those with whom they live. It is important that parents, siblings and members of the community understand how the person feels 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; if someone is autistic he/she will be for the rest of his/her life. However, once autism has been diagnosed, a specialist doctor or psychologist can teach parents and autistic children how best to get by in life. As the autistic child grows, with understanding and help, aspects of the disorder may improve. However, they may be replaced by other difficulties that arise, especially during adolescence and sometimes in adulthood.

Everyday people are known as 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 he/she understands and experiences the world in a different way to others; You could say his/her 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, if they are hyposensitive; they may seek them out because they need to touch, see, smell or hear them; they need their senses fulfilled.

This does not mean they cannot function alongside neuro-typical people. Assistance and allowances may have to be made for them to perform in mainstream establishments once the autism is diagnosed; while 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, or asthma, or diabetes. It is a range of related conditions with shared symptoms. All children with autism will have trouble with communication, behaviour, and lack social skills. This will make it harder for some of them to learn in the same way as everyone else, as learning is mostly achieved 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.

Some parents are criticised by others for their child’s behaviour being ‘out of hand’ or ‘strange’. 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 something that affects them using unconventional behaviour. This can be by a child covering his ears and screaming at the sound of a passing siren, or the extreme, where a child repeatedly bangs his head against the wall for the same reason. Each autistic child has different symptoms, behaviours and reactions, to what he/she perceives through his/her 5 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 detect 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. hugs or kisses.

Autistic people may appear quirky or odd; they may do things in a repetitive manner or seem unemotional or distant and content in their own company. They find it hard to make friends, or keep up with conversations. This does not mean they want to be alone or have no wish to make friends; it means they cannot process the code of behaviour or social cues and apply them to their advantage, (though this can be taught 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 amazing memory and problem-solving skills.

Although some adjustments and considerations will have to be made for the individuals’ care and safety, those with mild to moderate autism need time, space, understanding and tolerance from their families and society for them to get by.

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 childcaregy@gmail.com

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