April is autism awareness month. As a mother of two children on the autism spectrum I like to take any opportunity available to raise awareness and education on this lifelong disorder.
Most people when asked what they know about autism will immediately give the example of the character from the movie 'Rainman', the stereotypical autistic savant. Only a small percentage of people with autism fall into this category.
Autism is best described as a group of characteristics and behaviours that affect communication, social interaction and imaginative thought. Individuals with autism share some similarities but they will all have varying degrees of severity of the disabling characteristics and behavioural traits of autism.This is why autism is called a spectrum disorder. Imagine a line with very low functioning individuals at one end and very high functioning individuals at the other. In between are people who are affected by the impairments of their autism either more severely or less. Some individuals with autism will never live independently while others will go on to lead productive and very successful lives.
I like to call autism an invisible disability. We cannot tell a person has autism just by looking at them. Sometimes a person with autism may display behaviours that are considered odd or strange or be mistaken for bad manners, rudeness or just bad behaviour. These behaviours are usually due to frustration, anxiety and difficulties with communication and the different way people with autism think about things. (I was labelled a bad mother many, many times before my daughter was diagnosed with autism at almost 8 years old. I still carry the psychological scars from that time in our lives)
Some of the signs of autism are:
- Poor eye contact
- Lack of interest in people
- Poor social skills
- Repetitive behaviours
- Echolalia (repeating words or phrases )
- Rigidity around routines - intense dislike of even the smallest change
- Flapping or twirling of body parts
- Flat facial expression, lack of smiling or smiling or laughing inappropriately
- Sensory issues - extreme sensitivity to noises, smells, refusal to wear certain clothing
If you wish to learn more about autism here are some sites to visit. I have no affiliation with any of these sites, they are just sites I think may be useful.
Living with and raising children with autism is very stressful, often on a daily basis. Especially for those who have little family support. It takes a heavy toll on the entire family and the relationship of the parents. My understanding is that the divorce rate for parents of children with autism is higher than the norm. Certainly I know it places extreme stress on the relationship. My observation has been that whilst support services (including respite care) have improved a lot in the last ten years there are still many, many families who continue to struggle with very little by way of practical day to day support. If you know someone with a child with autism learn what you can about how autism affects their lives. If you can offer to babysit and you may well be giving that parent a much needed respite that will give them the strength to get through another difficult day. When my children were very young I was too ashamed to ask for help but I would have gratefully accepted if someone had offered. (I did eventually learn to ask for help, many stress filled years later)
My children are on the higher end of the autism spectrum. My daughters diagnosis is Aspergers syndrome and my son High Functioning autism. Often my children did not meet criteria for support because they were high functioning. This was very frustrating for all of us as they still suffered severe impairments due to their autism. (they still do) My hope is that one day ALL children will get extra support when they need it based on need alone not on ticking certain boxes on beaurocratic paperwork.(especially within the education system) ALL children deserve to have every chance to attain their full potential.
If you have an interest in Aspergers syndrome I highly reccomend reading any of the books written by Tony Attwood
wishing you sunshine in your shadows