Autism also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobehavioral condition characterized by challenges with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are approximately 1 in 59 children diagnosed with ASD and that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. In most cases, children were still being diagnosed after the age of 4 and it can also be diagnosed as early as the age of 2.
Common queries would include if autism is genetic or hereditary and the answer is that autism has a strong genetic basis. The genetics of autism is unclear and complex. Indicators of autism may include developmental delays which can be diagnosed as early as 18 months.
How to help someone with autism?
Whether you are a parent, sibling, friend, family member of someone who has autism, it is important to be emotionally strong so you can help him/her. There are a lot of ways on how to help them and below are few pointers to name some:
- Communicate nicely. Some people find it difficult to communicate with people with autism as they get impatient for the response time or that sometimes they feel like they don’t understand what they are trying to say. It is important to speak at a reasonable pace and volume to someone with autism. Keep in mind that it is helpful to use short and clear sentences, you can also use photos, gestures and facial expressions.
- Be mindful of sensory differences. People with autism typically experience abnormalities in sensory integration and how they process visual experiences. They are often sensitive to high pitch sounds, smells, taste, touch and even light sensitivity.
- Make Plans. There are a lot of instances that someone with autism wants to be included but does not know how to ask. The feeling of “belonging” to a group or even just a small group of friends make them feel happy and comfortable. Having plans like having lunch together, watch a television series, play games etc gives them something to look forward to and makes them anticipate an enjoyable experience.
- Give time to process. This applies to everything, may it be the person needs to choose from something, figure out something or just anything, give time and space to process. They will feel less pressured if they know that you are not in a hurry hence they will not feel discomfort at all.
- Be there. Being there may sound as simple as it is but it greatly helps to show that you are there for them, give them unconditional love and acceptance. It is also important to take a stand if someone is bullying them. It is sad to say that even up to this day people with autism are still prone to abuse, violence, teasing or being picked on, so it is essential to stand up for them.
Signs and symptoms of autism
Indicators of autism usually appears at the age of 2 or 3. Below are some signs and symptoms of autism which may vary from person to person.
- Difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication
- Get upset by minor changes
- Difficulty with recognizing emotions and intentions in others (and even own emotions)
- Repetitive body movements (e.g. flapping, spinning, running back and forth)
- Staring at lights or spinning objects
- Ritualistic behaviors
- Resistance to change and sticking to the same routine / schedule
- Avoiding eye contact
- Delay in learning to speak
- Intense or narrow focus on one topic
- Repeating words or phrases
Types of ASD
- Autistic Disorder. Also called “classic” autism. They usually have significant language delays, unusual interests and behaviors, communication and social challenges and many of them have intellectual disability.
- Asperger Syndrome. They usually have milder symptoms of autistic disorder. However, they typically have no problems with language or intellectual disability.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Also known as atypical autism. They usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder. They may only have social and communication problems.
It is important to be calm and patient, life can be frustrating at times as it is but always bear in mind that people with autism is also trying to do the best they can. Don’t force the person to change, understanding and acceptance is the key. Each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.
Some people with autism may need significant support in their daily lives while others may need less support or some can even be entirely independent. Be mindful of how they feel, what they need and try to give not too much or not too little in every situation. Just give them enough support and attention so they will not feel weird or “different” after all.