Six years ago, if you had asked me what Autism is, I would have not had much to say. My response would have likely been bland and general, one sentence at the most. Today, if you ask me what Autism is, my response will be infinite, heartfelt and enthusiastic. Why? Because for 6 years and counting, I have been privileged to be the mother of a bright and amazing autistic boy. Our youngest son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3.
So back to the question first stated: What is Autism? If you want to get fancy, the official definition of Autism is as follows:
Autism is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is not called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It covers a large spectrum of symptoms, skills and levels of impairment. ASD ranges in severity from a handicap that somewhat limits an otherwise normal life to a devastating disability that may require institutional care. (WebMD)
It has not been validated for sure on what causes Autism, but many researchers believe that it may be due to generic aspects and others also believe it could be a result of environmental things as well. Despite the cause, one in 68 U.S. children currently have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 30% increase from the 1 in 88 two years ago, according to a new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CNN, March 2014)
What are the symptoms of Autism?
Our son started to show signs of possible ASD very early on. He seemed to have energy out of this world, and it was always hard for him to rest. He would put things in his mouth constantly, and this has not changed. The main sign was his lack of communication and lack of understanding with what we would say to him. Sometimes it seemed as if he would be looking right through us.
Here are a few early significant signs:
Repetitive movements with objects
Lack of appropriate eye gaze
Lack of response to name (something parents report very frequently)
Lack of warm, joyful expressions
Unusual prosody (rhythm and intonation of language)
Repetitive movements or posturing of the body. (WebMD)
Autism effects those who are on the spectrum differently. This is the main reason why: in recent years, it has been recognized as a spectrum disorder. This is because the spectrum is huge and ranges from mild to severe.
Another important factor I must mention is that Autism does not have a specific physical characteristic. Many times when I reveal to people that my son has ASD, they will say “He doesn’t look Autistic.” This lets me know that this person may not know what autism is, which is why awareness and education on this matter is so important.
Autism makes itself known through certain behaviors or the lack thereof. This is a very good general visual of the signs in early childhood:
MY ADVICE TO THE WORLD
Educate yourself on Autism and keep an open mind. Don’t wait until it hits close to home. The children of this world are our future and it is our responsibility to guide them and keep them safe. Children with disorders like Autism may look normal, but if you know the signs of Autism, you may be able to help one who may wander off. Always be kind and remember that Autistic people may learn differently and may not be able to communicate, but many of them do understand things and they have feelings just like any other person does. If you ever have a question, just ask because that is the best way to gain knowledge!
MY ADVICE TO PARENTS
If you suspect that your child may have Autism, don’t wait to seek medical advice. There are so many amazing therapies and programs that are available that can truly help children with Autism learn to express themselves, communicate, control their behaviors, understand the world around them, and most importantly, be safe. Our son started to receive therapy in school immediately and later at home. This has made a big difference in our lives.
Autism can be scary, uncertain and a huge challenge, not only for the child but also the parent. But one thing my son’s teacher told me that I will never forget one day when things were weighing so heavy upon us, she said “He’s going to be okay, he will just need a little EXTRA LOVE and hugs and patience, and you’ve got this!” That made all the difference in the world, and she was right about that.
If you are a parent of an Autistic child or have someone in your life who is Autistic and close to your heart, please read this beautiful poem in closing:
For more information on Autism and resources, visit Autismspeaks.org