I feel it is fair to say we, meaning researchers, scientists, people generally know more about autism than we have ever done in previous years. Yet, I am finding that as I ask people on and off the spectrum what is autism? I get variable answers and interpretations. I have listed some for you to read:
Amythest Schaber is an autistic female adult, she is verbal and spends her time advocating for those with autism, she gives support to parents and professionals. I have found her descriptions and helpful tips incredibly useful and of course they are with no hidden agenda or ego. She has an autistic brain, she feels in an autistic way and sees everything through her autistic eye. I say the above paragraph as this is how she describes autism. She says it isn’t something to be fixed or cured, it cannot be. It can be supported and accepted and areas of challenge can be helped with the many different approaches to speech aid, communication skills etc. She also says quite controversially that autism is not caused by vaccines or heavy metals. She even goes on to say this is not up for discussion as it simply is not. (her belief)
She says that autism is a persuasive neurological development condition which, means it involves every part of a person. Including how they move as well as think, see, feel, hear, speak and verbalise.
The dictionary describes autism like this – a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.
The National autistic society says on its website this: is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. It says a lot more about each part of a person and how it typically affects people. Check out www.autism.org to see their website.
A BBC science website says this: Autism is a developmental disorder that can cause problems with social interaction, language skills and physical behaviour. People with autism may also be more sensitive to everyday sensory information. To people with the condition the world can appear chaotic with no clear boundaries, order or meaning. The disorder varies from mild to so severe that a person may be almost unable to communicate and need round-the-clock care. Research has revealed that people with autism have brains that function in a number of different ways to those without the condition.
One recent study suggested that people with autism tend to have far more activity in the part of the brain called the amygdala when looking at other people's faces. The over-stimulation of this part of the brain that deals with new information may explain why people with autism often have difficulty maintaining eye-contact. Specific nerve cells in the brain, called neurones, also act differently in people with autism. Mirror neurones help us mimic useful behaviour so we can learn from others.
Brain imaging studies suggest that the mirror neurones in people with autism respond in a different way to those without the disorder. This could partly explain what many behavioural studies have already shown - that children with autism can find it difficult to copy or learn simple behaviours from others. Scientists have suggested with social interaction could have a knock-on effect on language learning.
An autistic girl says: It is a motor condition from brain to body, which causes information to become split and so finding it difficult to activate responses directly and quickly, processing information can take longer as I see everything, every minute detail...plus I feel the emotions of others deeply so have to filter out what I thinks is required of me...I can get a little distracted!
A young man named Dillon who is non-verbal and now has a voice through a communication voice aid says he can see the wind, hear the flowers and can feel emotions coming from his loved ones intently. He feels and this is a quote of his’ we can all do whatever we wish, all we need to is open our minds more’.
Another young man with autism said that he has problems getting through the untruth of some people and their feelings! He said it really distresses him when he can feel that someone is not being honest about how they feel about another person or directly about him. As he can feel it and see when they are lying it confuses him and can send him into a turmoil.
I have included the latter 3, although they are not exactly defining what autism is. My reason for including them is this:
Does it really matter what it is? So many cannot agree on what it is anyway. What matters surely is how we accept and interact with those whom are labelled autistic. It is like someone with downs syndrome, we do not spend all our time trying to change them from being downs, un-downs them? Do we? No we accept it and instead support and focus on that.
I remember very clearly at primary school especially being teased and bullied daily by other students as young as 7 years old because I wore glasses with a patch. /it was a big deal back then (1970’s) for people to be so different that they wore glasses! Ginger hair too was another one. These days we have accepted it and moved on.
Why then is it still different with autism? Why do we feel it has to be cured? Fixed, banished? If it is (and I believe it is) a way of being, a different type of person, it cannot be cured. Should it? There are so many attributes each of us own that may challenge others in either understanding us or hearing us, should we start expecting them to change? No of course not, we simply learn new skills ourselves to adjust our hearing if it is a strong accent we are not used to hearing etc.
I understand the wish to help those with autism with language and communication skills, how we introduced those therapies I feel can sometimes be rather cruel and stressful, even if the intentions are good. Some people with autism may never use their voice to speak, get over it. Instead find other ways we can communicate with them. Offer as many opportunities as possible and see which one fits. If any.
Hans Asperger’s whom the condition was named after as was the first to write papers on his studies and findings of those with autistic traits. He write his papers in 1944, yet they were not translated into English until 1991! Why on earth it took so long to get this information into other languages is beyond me. He said, ‘Our attitude to individuals and our right and duty to speak out for these individuals with the whole force of our personality is paramount. Only the most dedicated and loving educators can achieve success with those with this condition’
He also noticed what he called autistic intelligence. Those who were non-verbal and were before and currently at that time back in 1944 deemed mentally retarded, only fit for an institution (which tragically many ended up in) he say the intelligence within them. He created tests for those with the traits of autism and was so passionate about his work and his wish to speak out for them. He said it is when love and understanding is the main focus we can see more than just a muted child without a working brain.
As Temple Grandin says, ‘The world needs all kinds of minds’ Our constant need to change people if they look different, act different or communicate differently is, well in my opinion quite a restricting way to be. Can we not evolve higher, into more accepting humans? Celebrating the differences in each of us, learning about the differences instead of attacking or calling them disorders and disabilities? If all humans simply accepted those I speak of, with joy and no other feeling of fear or pity, it wouldn’t be necessary for anyone to feel they cannot be seen out or never fit in anywhere..
Often people stare then walk away, worse tease and ridicule and simply exclude. Refusing to change who they are to allow differences to enter their own worlds. From experience in life I know that meeting people deemed different have always been a joy, honest and loving. Nice people to be around, they showed me no judgement at all, I was free to be me. It is a win win, when we open our hearts and our minds.