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Has a Lack of Autism Knowledge Left You in the Dark?

April 11, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Do you know a child who prefers to be alone and has repetitive or compulsive behavior patterns? Have you met someone who lacks a sense personal space and blurts out inappropriate observations? Maybe you have interacted with a person who seems unable to understand your feelings and has verbal outbursts? These are just a few tendencies on a lengthy list of characteristics of autism.

Autism is commonly misunderstood. It is not a disease, it does not cause death on its own and it is not a lack of intelligence. Most of all, it is not a cookie cutter diagnosis. Autism is a disorder – a neurological, developmental condition and its characteristics (often disabling) vary significantly from person to person. No two individuals with autism are exactly the same.                                                 

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According to Autism Speaks, “Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development – characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.”

What causes autism? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The Autism Society states, “There is no known single cause for autism; but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism compared to neurotypical children.” Studies are currently being done to research potential causes of autism such as:

  • Problems during pregnancy and/or delivery
  • Harmful substances ingested during pregnancy
  • Environmental factors
  • Heredity & genetics
  • Viral infections
  • Metabolic imbalances
  • Exposure to chemicals

IMG_20160407_145647Debunking myths about autism. The cause of autism is unclear and the disorder itself is diverse; but most importantly, individuals with autism are often misunderstood. This misunderstanding leads people to make judgments, spread false information, and create stereotypes about this particular group of individuals. We’re here to clear up some of the confusion.

Myth: People with autism are all the same.
Fact: People with autism differ from one another just as much as people without autism differ from one another. No two people are the same, and autism doesn’t change that.

Myth: People with autism make repetitive motions that should be stopped.
Fact: Self-stimulatory behavior, known as “stimming” for short, are behaviors like rocking, hand flapping, spinning, and the repetition of words and phrases. People with autism do this as a way to manage negative emotions like anxiety, fear, and anger. The real question is, why are these behaviors frowned upon when nail biting, pencil tapping, and teeth grinding seem to be fairly acceptable in our society? Let’s face it, we all stim – we just look different doing it.

Myth: People with autism are violent.
Fact: People with autism are no more likely to commit acts of violence than anyone else. When they do display violent behavior, they are much more likely to harm themselves or throw inanimate objects than hurt someone else.

Myth: People with autism have no empathy.
Fact: This is a common misconception because people with autism can be very blunt and have a difficult time navigating social norms. Contrary to popular belief, they tend to have very intense feelings – so much that they become overwhelmed by the emotions of people around them.

What’s the best treatment for autism? People with autism are diverse and require different interventions depending on their specific needs, so there is no single treatment for it. The most important part of treatment is early intervention. According to Autism Speaks, “The most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.” Children given consistent support beginning in the earliest stages have the most successful outcomes. Interventions and support are given both at home and at school and should be constantly changing as the child develops more social and learning skills. IMG_20160407_145730Keeping a child with autism safe is another important part of treatment. Although autism does not cause death on its own, children with autism have a tendency to wander off unattended, which can lead to dangerous situations. Autism Speaks goes into detail about how to prevent wandering related tragedies at home and school. Drowning is among the leading causes of death for these individuals. With all the water we have in Florida, check to see if your local YMCA offers swimming lessons for individuals with autism.

According to the Autism Society, “Autism affects over 3.5 million people in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide.” Unfortunately, this number goes up year after year. Despite the odds against them, many people with autism grow up and lead independent and accomplished lives. If you think your child is showing signs of autism, speak up! Have them evaluated right away to get them the support they need.

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