Article contributed by Abeer Naseem (Skills)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication; symptoms of which start to become apparent in the first three years of life. They gradually continue to appear till age of six months and continue to progress until age two or three, at which point symptoms remain stable and carry on into the individual’s adulthood. Symptoms of ASD highly vary individual to individual, but most commonly individuals have trouble operating in social environments. Autistic people lack the ability to empathize with others, which typically results in the inability for them to follow social norms and to respond appropriately in situations that involve judging the emotions of others. This may give birth to an inability to communicate at all.

For years it was assumed that Autistic people did not feel emotion because they never expressed them the way typical people do. Individuals with Autistic Disorder have flat faces, with no exhibition of facial expressions. They appear emotionless and it is also difficult for them to identify and describe emotions. However, recent research studies have shown that autistic people do feel emotions but are unable to unravel them in an appropriate manner. Similarly, there was a wrong assumption that they do not have a need for friends, relationships and family but yet again this was the case seen because they fail to fulfill requirements for these in the best acceptable way. People with ASD are not able to understand abstract concepts, nor can they form meaning out of everyday conversational words that do not signify a concrete meaning for example metaphors. This can only be overcome by rigorous rote learning. The reasons are likely to include the following:

  • Generally people with ASD have problems with language and communication. They are neither in a habit of using too much language, are neither exposed to too much language use and therefore lack the practice in communicating their stance.
  • People with ASD are generally happier in formal structured situations. In other words, they are just never comfortable using informal language and avoid such occasions. So again, they are denied practice.
  • A lot of conversational language involves the use of sarcasm. For example, the phrase ‘well that’s just great’ taken literally means high praise. On the other hand it can be used as sarcasm, taunt, disapproval and can be demoralizing. Again, people with ASD are poor atunderstanding sarcasm in particular and tone of voice in general.
  • The theory of mind argues that people with ASD lack the ability to recognize that other people think differently. They do not have the maturity to understand the fact that everyone has their own personal perspectives about this world. This makes them have a very restricted view of the world and the language used.

Causes of Autistic Spectrum Disorder

The exact cause of ASD currently is unknown. Apart from the past explored common genetic, cognitive and neural causes for the disorder, recent research suggests that a dysfunction of nerve synapses plays a role in ASD. Synapses are the tiny junctions between nerve cells that facilitate communication throughout the brain. Research also suggests developmental abnormalities that facilitate ASD begin to occur during the first 8 weeks of gestation. This indicates that the foundation for ASD appears in the early developmental stages during pregnancy. A relatively new research termed as The Intense World Theory posits that powerful brain activity is the cause of autistic traits. According to this theory, excessive connectivity in local brain regions increases the ability to focus and pay attention to details.

It is a bitter reality when people degrade children suffering from ASD. They view such people as objects of torture, passing strikingly rude and offensive comments to and about them. People are insensitive towards the autistic person’s condition. Yet seemingly respectable people also tend to utter insulting words in a somewhat earnest way. Some of the comments recorded in an online survey about ASD might have been intended as mean but by what was people meant to say was quite evident. There were three types of beliefs that people held about ASD. From a sample of 600 people, the most prominent remarks having the same content are as follows:

  • First, it was seen that people suffering from ASD do not deserve any facilities or medical services.  The most common reason people gave was, “it is because you are all retarded.”Some however, said the opposite; “you don’t need help because you’re too smart already.”
  • Then there were remarks from the “ASD deniers.” They said things like: “ASD is just an excuse for bad behavior;” “This kid is just lazy.”
  • Finally, there are the finger pointers.  These were the people who dismissed ASDby blaming someone or something, rather than focusing on the real issues at hand. They gave remarks like “You’re just a bad parent;” “None of this would have happened if you had skipped that vaccine.”

Clearly, there is a lot of ignorance and something needs to be done about it. Awareness campaigns and public speaking can change this ignorance. That is the one and only fix at the moment for the outrageous things people say about and to individuals suffering from ASD. Greater knowledge can do wonders. Racism, discrimination, and much of the worst behavior that humans exhibit has its origin in ignorance and its consequences – oppression, violence, and lack of opportunity. That’s a hard fight – bringing awareness to the world.  But it’s got to be done and this seems to be a legit way of carrying out the awareness. Therefore, the World Autism Week is celebrated in April every year to spread more understanding about the severity of the disease and motivate people have a sense of responsibility to provide support and encouragement to foster growth in such children.

Abeer Naseem.

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