Autism Feature Story
As neuroscientists learn more and more about how people’s brains tick, the ambiguity of why your child may seem absent at a young age or what initially was branded as a personality disorder treated by using LSD is gradually becoming clear.
Back in the 1930s, when Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was still being discovered, it was seen as a bi-product of unloving mothers (“refrigerator” mothers) and was treated via electric shock therapy to iron out unwanted behaviours. While uncureable, Autism is now treated by teaching social skills and cues to those affected.
At present, the short definition of what autism is that it is a different wiring of the brain. In full, it is a developmental spectrum in which many symptoms lie underneath the umbrella of ASD; where one person may have problems with acute sensory abnormalities like dislikes for specific sounds or tastes, another may not have the social skills to communicate with others. No two people with ASD are the same and this is one of the many misconceptions that surround the mysterious condition.
At the present time there are no official diagnosis procedures for ASD due to the varying symptoms being so wide-ranged. At present, children and adults who are suspected to have Autism are put through a screening process in which their symptoms are compared to “normal” or neuro-typical children or adults but this isn’t always accurate with some people on the spectrum going unnoticed due to being more sociable than others on the spectrum.
While ASD is widely known, the initial wave of general popular knowledge was first started upon the release of “Rain man”, a semi-biopic of “savant” Kim Peak which starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It depicted Hoffman as a naive and socially underdeveloped adult with an abnormal intelligence. While the film did bring about awareness of Autism, it incepted the notion that everyone with Autism was either able to count a jar of toothpicks at a glance and be a maths whizz, or be completely socially dependant on others; both are not necessarily true of the disability.
While talking to the service coordinator, Matthew Day of Number 6, Autism Initiatives, he exclaimed his annoyance at the misconceptions of the condition.
He said, “There is a common misconception that it is a learning disability or those that have ASD will have a learning disability. There is a misconception that people with Autism have some innate desire to avoid social contact. There are myths amongst even those who work with people with Autism that they won’t be very good at socializing. Whereas I think a lot of people that I work with are good at it; they may do it differently and they may have to put a lot of conscious effort and therefore become exhausted from it but I feel that links back to processing information differently. Although there are some people who may not want to socialize very much, it doesn’t make it an innate part of Autism.”
Following up on the myth that Autism is a form of learning disability, according to the 2012/2013 edition of HESA, roughly 155/8215 who are known to have a disability in full time higher education are Autistic, this doesn’t include those that are on the spectrum who are undiagnosed. An example of this statistic is the Autistic student, Karl Levy who aims to fight the misconceptions of Autism when talking to everyone he meets. He told me in a conversation with him, “It can annoy me when people assume that there’s something wrong with this me – (such as) Why is he behaving differently to us? – And to think (that) they know what ASD means when they have never experienced it to deal with people with the condition (is frustrating). When I meet new people they take a different view of me as a person, but when I tell them that I have Asperger’s they can understand me. I often have to explain to them about my condition and what part of it can affect me.” While able to cope with the new environment of university due to his previous experience at college closer to his home in Huddersfield, he still uses assistance through Number Six to help with planning his courses. He aims to use his knowledge in the computer industry to pursue a successful career and possibly move to Canada to live with his Dad.
While Autism is a fairly well known disability, it still seems clear that the condition is still vaguely understood with common myths permeating society. While we still crawl to a greater understanding of the brain, it is hoped that the integration of Autism in everyday life as a “normal” thing continues.
Here are some great resources: http://www.autism-awareness.org.uk/autism-and-learning-disabilities.aspx