There is a lot to celebrate in the month of April. The weather forecast showcases increasingly warmer days (with the occasional Chicago snow setback), trees begin to sport fresh buds, and sunlight stretches further and further into the evening. April also reminds us to reflect on Autism- more specifically, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)- and all of the amazing individuals with autism who share their talents, joy and love with those around them every day.
This is not to make light of a disorder that is increasingly prevalent. According to Autism Speaks, the CDC determined in 2018 that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). An ASD diagnosis isn’t something to take lightly- children and adults with ASD struggle with a wide range of difficulties that are associated with this diagnosis, including but not limited to:
Those with ASD often struggle to communicate their wants, needs and feelings in a way that others conventionally understand. This can lead to significant levels of frustration and even self-injurious behaviors.
Social situations can be a source of curiosity and delight, fear and anxiety, or apathy and detachment. No matter the feelings that social interactions conjure, understanding the unwritten rules of social interaction and how to navigate communicative exchanges with others can be very difficult for those with ASD. Cues such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are social implications that need to be explicitly taught. Thus, individuals with ASD often misunderstand and are misunderstood when it comes to communicating with others.
While every single person with ASD is unique in their own right, it can be stated with near certainty that each person experiences some degree of sensory-related difficulty. Difficulties can include being hyper-sensitive to outward sights, sounds, textures and tastes and/or hypo-sensitive to certain stimuli as well, which can lead to self-stimulatory behaviors.
Fact vs. Fiction – Dispelling Myths about ASD
You may have heard it before, but it is absolutely worth repeating: One child with autism is one child with autism. Meaning, every single individual with a diagnosis of ASD – child and adult alike – is unique in their own right. Their diagnosis does not define them. There are a range of diagnoses in this world, and in few others do people make drastic group assumptions, with comments or thoughts about those with ASD such as:
- They make little to no eye contact
- They do not show signs of affection
- They are not interested in making friends
- They will never function in the “real world”
In reality, these statements are often far from the truth. While it may be difficult for some to join in a group seamlessly, those with ASD want to be loved and accepted as much as anyone else. If their eye contact is limited, it does not mean that they don’t care about others or are incapable of expressing sentiment in their own way. Family meals at public restaurants and grocery shopping trips may be limited to avoid meltdowns and subsequent stares from strangers, but it does not mean that a child will never be able to tolerate these situations, especially with the help of therapy.
Stereotypical beliefs such as these plague society’s perceptions of those with ASD and create a fear-based, knee-jerk reaction to a diagnosis that does not have one-size-fits-all characteristics. They also distort people’s understanding of this condition, and in some instances, can make a parent second guess their gut feelings about their child’s challenges. For instance, a parent may notice that their child highly prefers self-play and often seems “in their own world,” but may think to themselves, “But my child gives me hugs and looks in my eyes- he/she can’t be autistic.” These misperceptions can prevent parents from seeking a diagnosis and from the therapeutic assist that improves their lives and the lives of their children.
There are many myths about ASD that deserve to be expelled. While there is an array of signs and symptoms that help professionals confirm or rule out ASD, no one is defined by a diagnosis.
Every single human being is unique in their own right, and in this newsletter, we would like to feature three special kiddos that help make CTC a better and brighter place. Addie, Joey and Sean all live with ASD and are all vibrant, bright and full of life! Below, their parents comment on what makes them so special. We thank them so much for sharing!