By Ryan Traynor, Editor-in-Chief
In our Amazing Mentor column this month, you’ll read about Genevieve Goings, a voiceover artist, composer and singer who has adapted her concerts for autistic and other sensory sensitive kids. I am very familiar with autism since a friend of mine is mildly autistic and I have seen how people react to him because they don’t understand the disorder. This article will give you some information so you can better understand autism and learn to accept individuals that have this disorder.
What is autism? What are the symptoms of autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. Autism is a brain disorder that often makes it hard to communicate with and relate to others. With autism, the different areas of the brain fail to work together. These disorders may show up as having a difficult time socializing with others, having difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and possible intellectual deficits. Children with ASD may become overly focused on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, fail to engage in typical babbling with their parents, and engage in repetitive movements or unusual behaviors such as flapping their arms, rocking from side to side, or twirling. In other cases, children may develop normally until the second or even third year of life, but then start to withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement. ASD people sometimes excel in visual skills, music, math, academic skills and art. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. About one third of people with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means.
What causes autism?
There is not one cause for autism. Most doctors believe that autism may have causes related to very early brain development since the signs of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age. Doctors believe that a combination of a rare gene mutation and environmental factors that may influence early brain development can cause autism. These environmental factors may include advanced parental age at conception, a mother’s illness during pregnancy, and difficulties during childbirth (especially any that deprive the baby of oxygen). ASD occurs in every racial and ethnic group, and across all socioeconomic levels.
How common Is autism?
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years, only partially explained by improved diagnosis. Autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. ASD affects over 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide.
Are there things to prevent autism?
If an expectant mother takes prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eats a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception, there is less risk of autism.
What can we do to communicate effectively with someone with ASD?
Keep in mind that people with ASD may have difficulty talking with you. Here are some tips so you can have a successful friendship with people with ASD:
- ASD people have difficulties in reading social cues and body language. Be patient and understanding and make sure you attempt to use words to communicate things that usually you convey with a look or other body language.
- Some also like routines and don’t like things to be disrupted. So, if someone with ASD likes a particular chair at a table, or wants to be somewhere at exactly the same time every day, let them follow their routines. This will make them feel safe and calm.
- Things are taken literally so avoid joking or not fully explaining something. They may ask a lot of questions to make sure they understand and repeat what you are saying in their own words. This means they are trying to understand, not that you are being unclear.
- If they misunderstand, just make another effort to clarify what you mean.
- They tend to speak exactly what they mean which may come across as being blunt or rude. Understand that they are just being honest, frank, and to-the-point.
- When talking to them, you will rarely get eye contact. If you do, it will be uncomfortable for them. If you allow them to not make eye contact, they will be more at ease and will listen to what you are saying more effectively.
- Make an extra effort to understand them, be reassuring, let them know you support them and be kind. Understanding autism is the first step. They want to feel accepted, just like all of us.
- Speak to them as equals. Don’t talk down to them just because it may take them longer to formulate the answers.
- Loud speaking and noises are very unsettling to people with ASD. When communicating, speak in a calm voice and move to a room without loud noises.
- They typically do not like unexpected touches so refrain from some body language such as touching a shoulder while talking or patting them on the back.
- Always treat others with respect. Patience and understanding will yield some great relationships.
Now that you understand autism (ASD), you are more prepared to accept others as they are, without judgement. Every person has something wonderful to offer us if we are open to it and willing to make the effort.