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Autism Awareness

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Autism. Most people have heard the word at some point or another, but what is it and why do people keep talking about it? The National Centre for Autism and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that 1 in 68 children have autism (NINDS, n.d). This makes it a common disorder. Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD, is considered to be one of the fastest growing developmental disorders. Autism is all around us and the number of people with it is growing rapidly, this makes autism awareness obligatory in our society. The first step to autism awareness is knowing what autism is.

The National Center for Autism India defines autism as “a lifelong neurological condition, a developmental disorder that typically occurs in the first three years of life.” (NCAI, n.d.). That being said, there is not a lot known about autism and there are many different levels of autism. Autism is a “spectrum”, the severity of the symptoms ranges anywhere from mild learning or social disability, to extremely complex with multiple difficulties, needs and behaviors that are noticeably odd or abnormal. This happens because in Autism, the various skills are not absent, they are all there, they just develop at different rates (faster or slower) than they would in people without autism or even other people with autism. Some skills may develop super-fast, while others will develop very slowly within the same person. This could give you someone who is a brilliant mathematician but has a serious speech impediment or someone who is an amazing artist but is considered “socially awkward”. Each person on the autism spectrum will be unique, autism looks very different between individuals. There are three main places that autism effects; communication (both verbal and non-verbal), social interaction and creativity or imagination.

The first key area autism effects is communication. This refers to speech, showing emotions, reading other people’s emotions, communicating needs and wants, understanding the meaning of words and being able to read non-verbal communications (i.e. hand gestures). Even in this one area, you end up with a vast amount of possibilities on the spectrum. Some with autism may not be able to speak, while others might have a rich vocabulary and be capable of talking about subjects in great detail while not being able to carry on a conversation. The most common problem with communication that people with autism have is a lack of being able to use language effectively, especially when other people are involved. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders gives some patterns of language use and behaviors that are common among people with autism. They are:

• Repetitive or rigid language – A person with autism who can speak say things that have no meaning or that are out of context. This may be repeating the names of different condiments (salsa, ketchup, sour cream mustard), having echolalia, a condition in which the child repeats what they have heard either immediately or delayed, speaking with a sing-song or robotic voice, or using stock phrases in conversations (for example starting every conversation with “Who are you?” or “When is your birthday”, even if they know the answer).

• Narrow interests and exceptional abilities – Someone with autism might be able to talk about something that they love, in depth in monologue format, but not be able to have a conversation about it or about other similar topics.

• Uneven language development – People with autism may develop a large vocabulary in a particular area of interest very quickly, but lack the understanding of the words they have learned. While they may be able to read, they may not be able to comprehend what they read.

• Poor nonverbal conversation skills – To someone with autism, gestures may have no meaning.

These are a few of the key ways that communication can be affected and without being able to communicate many times people with autism will become frustrated and manifest their frustration in emotional outbursts or inappropriate behaviors, which leads us to the next thing that autism affects: Social Skills.

Development in social skills is one of the first areas that slower development can be seen. Infants are social creatures from the time they are born; they look at faces, turn toward voices, grasp fingers, smile and laugh. Children who have autism do not always participate in these simple social activities. As young as 8 to 10 months of age, many infants show some symptoms or social delay, such as failure



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