An autistic child can be extremely difficult to figure out. Their behavior is perplexing and challenging. The thing to remember is that they are children just trying to figure out the world while learning to live with this handicap.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
The first thing to learn as a parent of an autistic child is what exactly autistic spectrum disorder is. To put it in simple terms, this condition is a broad term for many complex disorders that are linked to how the brain develops.
There used to be many subtypes that included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger syndrome. In May 2103 all of these were put under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 1 in 88 children have ASD in America and that over the last 40 years this number has increased. Most researchers believe that this increase is because there is improved testing and more doctors are aware of autism. Autism is five times more common in boys then in girls. About 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed each year.
According to the CDC there are three types of ASD:
- Asperger’s Syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
- Autistic disorder
Asperger’s Syndrome is the mildest form and it will affect boys three times more often than girls. These children can become obsessed with a single object or topic. When they learn about this topic they will talk about it nonstop. They have impaired social skills and are usually awkward and uncoordinated. Their intelligence is normal to above average, this leads to AS to also be called “high-functioning autism”.
PDD-NOS will apply to a majority of children diagnosed with autism. These children’s autism is more severe than Asperger’s. The symptoms associated with PDD-NOS vary and make it difficult to generalize. No two children with PDD-NOS are alike in their symptoms and there are no agreed upon criteria for diagnosing PDD-NOS. Usually if a child seems to be autistic, but does not meet all the criteria, they have PDD-NOS.
Autistic disorder has a more rigid criterion for diagnosis. These children will have severe impairments and may also have some form of mental retardation and even seizures.
Autistic symptoms can vary; some children will have mild signs, while others will have countless more obstacles to overcome. There are three areas that every child will have problem in to some degree, these areas are:
- Difficulties in social interaction
- Verbal and nonverbal communication
- Repetitive behaviors
There are differing opinions with doctors, parents, and experts about the causes of autism and how to treat it. The one thing that most can agree on is that early, intensive intervention can help.
Some early signs to look for in babies and toddlers:
- Doesn’t make eye contact
- Doesn’t smile when smiled at
- Doesn’t respond to their name or to familiar voice
- Doesn’t follow objects visually
- Doesn’t make noises to get attention
- Doesn’t initiate or respond to cuddling
- Doesn’t imitate facial movements and expressions
- Doesn’t reach out to be picked up
As children age the signs for autism can become more diverse. There are a countless warning signs, they will include:
- Impaired social skills
- Appears disinterested or unaware of other people or what’s going on around them.
- Doesn’t know how to connect with others, play, make friends
- Prefers not to be touched, held, cuddled
- Doesn’t play pretend games
- Speech and language difficulties
- Speaks in an abnormal tone of voice or with an odd rhythm or pitch
- Repeats same words or phrases over and over
- Responds to question by repeating it instead of answering it
- Refers to themselves in third person
- Uses language incorrectly
- Non-verbal communication
- Avoids eye contact
- Doesn’t pick up on other people’s facial expression, tone of voice, or gestures
- Makes a few gesture; these may come across as robot-like or cold
- Abnormal posture, clumsiness, eccentric ways of moving
- Inflexible behavior
- Follows an extremely rigid routine
- Difficulty adapting to any change
- Unusual attachments to toys or strange objects
- Obsessively lines things up or arranges them in a certain order
- Preoccupation in a narrow topic of interest
- Repeats same actions or movements over and over again
Autistic children should not be defined by their disability. Many children can grow up to become productive citizens and lead wonderful lives. There are some things that parents, doctors, and educators need to know about these children.
The foremost important thing to remember is that they are children. They are still learning and do not understand that they may appear different to the rest of the world. They need to be guided, taught, and protected. If they get the idea that people think that they cannot do something they will probably not try.
The next thing to remember is that their senses are out of sync. Some sights, sounds, smells, etc. can be painful for them. They may seem to withdraw or be argumentative, but that is just their way of defending themselves.
Their hearing can by hyper acute and their brain cannot filter out all the input and put them in overload. Their smell is highly sensitive which can make going places miserable for them. Their eyes have a harder time adjusting to light; space seems to be moving, light looks like it pulses and bounces off things. All these factors can distort their vision and make it difficult to focus.
To these children there is a distinctions between won’t and can’t. To them won’t means that they choose not to and can’t means that they are not able to. Sometimes they just don’t understand you. It doesn’t help to yell at them from across the room, instead walk up to them and get their attention. When you have their attention tell them, using plain words, what to do. This makes it easier for them to understand and to comply.
These kids interpret language literally. Saying something is “a piece of cake” or you move “at a snail’s pace” just confuses them. All they see is that there is no cake or there is no snail. Instead try saying “this will be easy” or “you are moving slowly.” They understand straight forward and to the point words. Puns, sarcasm, metaphors, and inferences just puzzle them.
Pay attention to how an autistic child communicates. They will use different things like body language, withdrawal, agitation, and other signs to say something is wrong. They may also not have the vocabulary to say what they need, so be patient and work with them to learn what they are trying to say.
These children are wonderful visual learners. Because words no not make sense to them, repeating the same thing over and over will not help. However, showing them so the information is presented in a visual way will stick with them. This also helps because that visual can stay in front of them as long as they need it to.
Help them to focus on what they can do instead of what they cannot do. Nobody likes to be criticized and told that they cannot do something or that they are doing it wrong. So look for what their strengths are and emphasize that.
They will need help in social situations. Remember they are children and they want to play, but they may not know how to join or start a conversation with other children. They will need to be taught how to play with others. Structured activities are the best because they have a clear beginning and ending. Autistic children do not know how to read body language, facial expression, and emotions. They will need to be coached how to act in many different situations.
Every child has a meltdown, but for an autistic child they can be severe. These meltdowns are usually caused because they have had sensory overload or have just been pushed past their limit. It might be hard to figure out what triggers their meltdown, keeping a journal of when they happen (with the time, setting, people, activities) a pattern will start to develop.
Love is the greatest thing that any child needs, and these children will need it in spades. Love them no matter and be patient with them. Having the ability to see past their autism and not see it as a disability will help them. Be their cheerleader and guide them, doing all this will help them develop a limitless potential.
There are many stories on the internet about the capabilities of autistic children.
One story is about an 11 year old boy for Iceland named Brynjar Karl. He, with the help of his mom, made a movie and posted it on YouTube to ask the Lego Company to allow him and his mom to tour the Lego factory in Denmark. He also asked if they would be willing to donate enough Legos so that he can finish building his favorite ship, the Titanic. He had already drawn the ship to scale with every detail included. This is his dream and he is doing everything he can to make it come true.
This young man is not limited by his disability; rather he is using it to his advantage. He has found his niche and he wants to develop it.
With proper help from doctors, parents, and even teaches these children will be able to find what works for them. In doing this, these children will learn their self-worth and that they are important. They will also learn to not let autism define them, but to define themselves with other things.
Famous Autistic People
The list of famous people with autism is endless. These people are authors, singers, songwriters, educators, actors, Olympians, dancers, etc.
- Famous people with Asperger Syndrome
- Danny Beath, an award winning British landscape and wildlife photographer
- Susan Boyle, a British singer and “Britain’s Got Talent” finalist
- Albert Einstein
- Tims Ellis, Australian magician and author
- Daryl Hannah, an American actress
- Stanley Kubrick, a famous filmmaker
- Heather Kuzmich, a fashion model and contestant on “American’s Next Top Model”
- Those diagnosed with High-functioning autism
- Michelle Dawson, an autism researcher and autism rights activist
- Courtney Love, front woman of “Hole”
- Hikari Oe, a Japanese composer
- Dylan Scott Pierce, a wildlife illustrator
- Caiseal Mor, an author, musician, and artist
- Donna Willian, an Australian author
- On the Autism spectrum
- Jessica-Jane Applegate, a Paralympic swimmer
- Todd Hodgetts, a Paralympic shot putter
- James Hobley, a British dancer and 2011 “Britain’s Got Talent” finalist
- Jonathan Jayne, a contestant on “American Idol”
- Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana in 2012
- 50 Tyson, a rapper and autism activist
- Matt Savage, a U.S. jazz prodigy
- Jason McElwain, high school basketball player
Autism affects everyone differently and each person that has autism is unique. About 40 percent of autistic people have average to above average IQ. They take pride in their abilities and the distinctive way with which they view the world. Many of these people will have exceptional ability with visual, music, and academic skills.
On the other side, there is the 25 percent who have a significant disability and cannot live independently. They are nonverbal, but can communicate in other ways.
No matter where a child is on the autistic spectrum they have the ability to live a full life. With the proper training and guidance they can and will be able to succeed.