FORUM: UNDERSTANDING AND LIVING WITH AUTISM
Bill Butler is executive director of the Autism Spectrum Resource Center and owner of Spectrum Counseling.
Published Wednesday, April 23, 2014
CORPUS CHRISTI — Editor’s note: April is Autism Awareness Month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just announced that 1 in 68 children are affected by an autism spectrum disorder. It is highly likely that you may know someone on the autism spectrum, but at this time many people in the Coastal Bend are unaware of what it means to be on the autism spectrum.
It is not uncommon for a family to be unsure where to turn for support and interventions for their child on the spectrum, even years after the initial diagnosis. Some individuals even are not diagnosed until later in life. Early diagnosis and intervention can significantly help the child make strides for their future independence. Awareness of the disorder and resources available is the first step.
At the same time the family must be willing to accept the diagnosis and move to get the needed help. The more we can educate the community and give the needed support the easier this process will be for the families.
Autism is not just what you remember from the movie Rain Man. It is called a spectrum disorder because it can affect people in many different ways. So one person that you meet with autism may be nothing like the next person you meet with autism.
It is a neurological disorder affecting an individual’s sensory processing, nonverbal and verbal communication. It can include a need for repetitive behaviors and learning disabilities.
Here are some of the common signs and symptoms for the person with ASD:
Sounds may be harder to block out, tags on shirts may feel like they are rubbing the skin raw.
Wanting to eat the same foods daily, wear the same clothes.
Difficulty with being touched.
Difficulty understanding sarcasm or making direct eye contact.
Repetitive behaviors that help calm their nerves.
Difficulty expressing their needs, which may cause them to get frustrated or to isolate.
Difficulty in back-and-forth conversation, or in babies lack of back-and-forth sounds.
May make honest observations that sound rude.
Excessive focus on a topic.
Difficulty in taking turns or back-and-forth play.
Because of these symptoms there can be many behavioral issues that arise during childhood that can overwhelm a parent. Also a child may have signs and symptoms of anxiety, anger and depression. ADHD and obsessive compulsive behaviors go hand and hand with this diagnosis.
I have had many parents say they doubt their parenting skills even though with their other children they were doing a fine job. Proper teaching of skills to the parents and children greatly improves their child’s behavior at home and in school.
A partnership with the school system is vital; many parents have had to become full-time advocates for their child with the school to see that their child received the education he or she deserves.
In other parts of the country there have been successful programs to help their peers understand autism to increase the child’s potential for success in making friends. Families, schools and employers can help the individual on the spectrum reach new heights.
Treatment help from neurologists, speech, occupational and physical therapists, therapists who work with behavioral, social skills, anger and anxiety can make a huge difference in a person’s life.
Many individuals on the spectrum have gone on to become great successes in their field of study. For the employer willing to invest time they can be rewarded with a great employee who is dedicated to doing the job right. I personally know college professors, engineers, architects, welders and authors who are successful in their field and also are on the autism spectrum.
Recently, I have met many local professionals who have expressed much interest in autism and making educating our community and providing needed services a priority. This gives me great hope that in the future no parent in the Coastal Bend will be lacking in understanding of where to turn if a doctor tells them they believe their child has autism.
By becoming aware, educating and respecting those on the autism spectrum the Coastal Bend will be rewarded with creative individual thinkers of tomorrow.