Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopment disorder. This refers to abnormalities in the development of the brain and the functions of the brain. According to medical sources, the disorder is characterised through two major abnormalities: 1) “deficits in social communication and social interaction” and 2) “restrictive repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities”1.
To summarise, autism is a neurological disorder that delays or prevents the development of functions such as social interaction and behaviour.
Most of the time, when we see children, or possibly adults, with austism, we misinterpret their condition or we have misconceptions concerning their disorder. We are quick to assume things about them based on how we have observed them.
It is easy to make assumptions when we have no empirical knowledge or experience with autism. Hence, the heavy stigma revolving the condition. However, it is imperative to take the time to understand the condition and how difficult it is (for the patient, the family members, teachers, doctors etc.) as well as to raise awareness.
Knowledge is power. The more knowledge we gain, the more we can understand a person with autism and from that, the better we can help them integrate with society and cope with their condition.
Here are 10 things a child with autism wished you would know, based on a book written by Ellen Nothbohm :
- “I am first and foremost a child. I have autism. I am not primarily “autistic”.”2
A child with autism is still a child, regardless of their condition. Would you call a child with cancer as a cancerous child? Absolutely not. Their condition is not a reflection of who they are, it is merely a condition that they have. They should not be defined by their disorder. And just like any other child, they want and deserve to have the same privileges and awareness.
- “My sensory perceptions are disordered.”2
A characteristic feature of autistic spectrum disorder is sensory disintegration. Sensory disintegration is where brain interprets basic sensory cues (sight, smell, touch, sound and taste) inappropriately.
Patients with autism usually experience hypersensitivity in these cues. Their hearing is hyper acute where small sounds can seem like an explosion; The smell of trash could cause them to become nauseated and vomit ; Dim lights could seem too bright causing eye pain and more.
Due to this hypersensitivity, their brain becomes overloaded with stimulus, that they cannot interpret properly, and this causes them to feel extreme discomfort and pain.
- “Please remember to distinguish between won’t (I choose not to) and can’t (I am not able to).”2
A child with autism is not a difficult child. When they refuse to do something, it is not because they necessarily do not want to but rather they are unable to. Sometimes, they may not even understand you.
Speaking quickly or speaking too much, similar to their sensory disintegration, causes an overload of information to process. Speak simply, respectfully and purposefully to a child with autism.
- “I am a concrete thinker. This means I interpret language very literally.”2
Sarcasm and interpretative language (puns, idioms, metaphors) are forms of social language that require heightened cognitive function. In children with autism, due to the delay, they are unable to understand these forms of language. Therefore, using this form of language is ill-advised in patients with autism.
- “Please be patient with my limited vocabulary.”2
Similar to Point 3 and 4, extensive vocabulary, interpretative language are all disheartening for a child with autism. The overload of stimulus in these children cause them to process information slower than others. They do understand language, however it takes a while to process.
- “Because language is so difficult for me, I am very visually oriented.”2
Children with autism are more visually inclined where they learn and develop better using their visual cues; they are visual learners. This means, instead of teaching them what a bear looks like : show it to them. Instead of telling them how to clean the table, show them how. And consistently repeat these actions as the repetition helps them consolidate their learning.
- “Please focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.”2
Just like any other human, we do not like to be reminded of what we are unable to do. Focus on their strengths and their positives. Do not dwell on what they do not know yet, but prioritize on what they do know and build upon it. Teach them what they do not know progressively, and do not discourage them.
- “Please help me with social interactions.”2
The cardinal feature that most know about autism is their detachment with social interaction. Children with autism are not isolated beings, they just do not know how to initiate an activity or a conversation. Also, they do not know how to interpret proper social cues. If someone falls, and a child with autism laughs : it is not because they are malevolent, but because they do not understand how to properly respond. Be patient with them. Help them with social interactions, but do not force them.
- “Try to identify what triggers my meltdowns.”2
Understanding what triggers them is significant to helping them cope with their disorder. Once you understand what makes them distressed, you can prevent it from happening. It could be anything from an object to a place.
- “If you are a family member, please love me unconditionally.”2
Every human deserves love and affection. A child with autism is no different. They are days where their autism is harder to manage than others, but they are not choosing to make it difficult for you.
Understand that they are just responding to pain and discomfort and they are not being difficult voluntarily. They should not be punished for something they did not decide to have. Regardless of the situation, love them unconditionally.
Source : Extract from the book : “Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew” by Ellen Nothbohm, 2005.
 Autism spectrum disorder : Terminology, epidemiology, and pathogenesis. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com.ezp.imu.edu.my/contents/autism-spectrum-disorder-terminology-epidemiology-and-pathogenesis?source=search_result&search=autism&selectedTitle=3~150
 Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Know. E Nothbohm. 2005
Article is written by:
Fatin Najwa binti Daud, is a medical student studying at IMU Malaysia. She is a freelance writer of this blog at Zaahara. Interests include music, art, sports and travel.
-Photos are taken from google images
© 2016 Zaahara Ventures Sdn. Bhd.