Happy Friday everyone! We made it through the week, and today is the last day I’ll be talking about something for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek because Sunday is going to be another Halloween DIY!
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on Autism Spectrum Disorder during this week. Because I have a cousin, who I love dearly, that is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. So I wanted to talk a little about this Disorder and maybe clear up some potential misconceptions people may have.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder (that is, the characteristics present themselves in early childhood) that affects communication and behaviour. According to the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), People with ASD can have:
Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people;
Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors;
Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life
People who are diagnosed on the spectrum, will display these behaviours at varying degrees of intensity.
I’ve heard some people compare ASD individuals with those that may have Down Syndrome (this is a very different condition in both characteristics, risk factors and treatment), ADHD (again, different), and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (this is caused by alcohol consumption by the mother while baby is in utero). ASD is NOT the same as any of these.
However, much like these other conditions, if a child that has been diagnosed is provided with the appropriate supports to help manage some of the behaviours throughout their lifetime, people with ASD can grow up to live happy, regular lives.
What does ASD look like?
I’ve glossed over some of the behavioural characteristics of ASD, but you may be wondering what kind of behaviours they may exhibit. As ASD is a disorder that affects communication and behaviour, the list includes (But is not limited to):
- Inability or difficulty making and maintaining eye-contact
- Struggles to maintain the back and forth of a conversation
- Struggles to identify and respond accordingly to non-verbal social cues
- Talks at great length about a subject they find interesting or fascinating, even when the people they’re telling are showing signs of disinterest
- Inability or difficulty matching facial expressions with what is being talked about
- Inability or difficulty understanding someone else’s opinion or point of view
- Repetitive behaviours or repeating words or phrases (this is called echolalia)
- Having a keen interest in numbers, facts and details
- Becoming transfixed or overly focused on certain interests
- Inability or difficulty coping with changes in regular routine
- Being more sensitive or less sensitive to environmental stimuli such as noise, lights, etc.
People with ASD are also incredibly intelligent. This is due, in part, to their characteristic of being overly focused on their interests. People with ASD will seek out and consume all the information they can obtain about their interests, and be able to retain this information due to their keen interest. This is one of the reasons why Greta Thunberg is so determined as a 16 year old girl to make changes to our policies in order to slow down climate change. However, this is also one of the reasons why people with ASD may have sleep problems. People with ASD have difficulty turning those thoughts off or slowing them down. They are also very strong audio and video learners, and excel in math, science, music and art.
One of the things I love about my cousin is his sense of humour. One of my favourite things is to hear him laugh and say things that make other people laugh.
I also consider my cousin to be incredibly lucky. This is because he’s surrounded by a family that loves him fiercely, and they have the resources available to be able to support him. This isn’t always the case for people with ASD (or people with other disorders that affect behaviour and communication). There’s also a growing movement for ASD awareness, so the general public is learning more about it! Which, I think has been huge (especially to help people who work with kids with ASD in schools).
Unfortunately, doctors still don’t know the exact cause for ASD, though they have discovered some risk factors. And no, ASD is not caused by vaccinations. If this is your belief, please re-educate yourself. So in order for doctors to discover the causes of ASD, we need more funding for the research. So, if you ever see Autism Awareness events in your area, please consider donating or contributing in whatever way you can. The date for World Autism Awareness Day is April 2. The symbol for ASD Awareness is the rainbow puzzle ribbon (though different variations such as just one puzzle piece has been used):
Paediatricians do recommend all children be screened for ASD. An early diagnosis can provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to support your child or family member with ASD, AND it will open doors for your loved one as far as accessing services.
So, you see, people with ASD are loving, passionate, intelligent, funny people just like you or I. They just need a little support to help them to really shine.
What are your thoughts on today’s post? Please leave any thoughts or anything you think I missed in the comments section!
Ciao for now!
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