Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Autism are both terms for a relatively new type of developmental disorder. “These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.[…][A]ll autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD.” (Citation)
ASD emerges early on in a child’s development, usually presenting around 2-3 years of age and is almost five times as common in boys as it is in girls. ASD is also more common in children with another type of genetic or chromosomal condition per the CDC: “ASD commonly co-occurs with other developmental, psychiatric, neurologic, chromosomal, and genetic diagnoses. The co-occurrence of one or more non-ASD developmental diagnoses is 83%.” (Citation) This means that if a child is diagnosed as being on the spectrum there is a high likelihood that he or she will also face more medical and developmental challenges.
Because Autism can affect how a child interacts socially there are more difficulties and challenges faced by themselves and their families than just from the medical aspects of the condition. Autism has a stigma, a social idea about a child’s behavior spanning generations. A child should be seen and not heard. Historians suggest that some of the greatest minds were on the spectrum. Mozart, Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps even Einstein. In her books and blog Carrie Carriello offers a poignant look at life with her Autistic son Jack. She suggests that we love the child for the things they do and who they are rather than merely race to find a cure. Autism is a human condition and the children who have it love in ways that redefine our notions of normalcy and stretch our hearts. They are smart, they are full of whimsy, they see the world in their own order and through fresh eyes. She has one blog post in particular written from Jack’s point of view, where he talks about what some people whisper are tantrums, or melt-downs. She refers to it as deregulating. He calls it “Fussing”. (Citation)
Children on the spectrum can display a myriad of symptoms and secondary issues. Sometimes they can function so that the rest of the normal, boring world can never tell. Sometimes it’s common and present in their actions or words. Everyone with Autism has core symptoms involving their social interactions and relationships, verbal and nonverbal communication (as many as 40% of all children on the spectrum are nonverbal), and limited interest in activities or play (this may include interest in only one or two hobbies or foregoing play with other children entirely). (Citation) While there is currently nothing that can be considered a “cure” for Autism there are many therapies and resources available to parents. And, with the increase in attention to ASD, these resources promise to grow. Currently parents can explore educational and behavioral therapies, medications, diets and supplements. (Citation) As with any treatment, it is important for parents to make an informed decision regarding what treatments, if any, would be in their child’s best interest. While ASD is meant to be an umbrella diagnosis encompassing all types of Autism Spectrum disorders the children who are assigned this labeling are as individual and varied as the rainbow colors they love. Like Ms. Cariello writes in her blog:
I have loved autism for the same reasons I hate it: it is whimsical and slippery and erratic. It equal parts delights and depresses me. Over the past few years, I’ve had the great fortune to meet two brilliant, remarkable psychologists—the closest I’ve ever come to meeting someone who is an expert in this field. One of them explained to me that people are drawn to those on the spectrum because it challenges all of our assumptions about human behavior. When she said this, I thought about all the assumptions I’d made[…]I assumed I would be a good mother—not a great mother, but certainly not the kind of mother who would scream at her special-needs son that he is driving her insane in the parking lot of the grocery store. I expected the pain to ease…I thought I didn’t know how to love unconditionally. I assumed it would be harder for me than it is for him, because I didn’t think he processed loss, and regret, and loneliness. I thought he would never understand what he’d been denied in the complicated genetic battle that landed him on the spectrum’s sloping bell curve…I assumed that every day autism presented me with a choice: to feel frustrated or help him make progress. Now I know it is okay to be feel both. They are mutually exclusive, yet oddly concordant, even necessary together. Some days, they are linear—other times, they leapfrog over one another—anger and growth, irritation and enrichment. And when it comes to this boy, no conversation should go unfinished. No matter how painstaking and irritating and hard it is, I still have to tease out the words. Because after a million hours with autism, I know sometimes progress tiptoes in like a mouse after the tiger’s fierce roar. When this happens, my satisfaction—my joy—is always tempered and bittersweet, like tepid coffee or bacon that has been burned. I am hungry for it, but it never tastes as good as I’d hoped. (Citation)