I bet we all remember Susan Boyle; a Scottish singer who first came to international attention in 2009 after appearing as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent. She stood before an audience in “Clyde Auditorium” and said that she was trying to become a professional singer (at forty) and that she hoped to be as successful as Elaine Paige (The audience smirked at her on hearing this). She performed the song “I dreamt a dream” so beautifully and so powerfully, everyone including the judges was surprised. They hadn’t expected much from her. She finished second in the contest, losing to the dance troop ‘Diversity’. Every time I am in need of inspiration, I go to you tube and watch her performing “I dreamt a dream”, while ignoring all the people in the congregation who were waiting for her to falter so they can burst out laughing. Susan Boyle was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (now autism spectrum disorder) in 2012. She made her diagnosis public in 2013. Now, autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by; difficulty in social interaction, challenges in communication and restricted repetitive behavior. World Autism Awareness Day is marked every second day of April as a way to raise the awareness of autism. April is autism awareness month. Autistic children and adults live in our world, amongst us; hence, we cannot afford to be ignorant about autism!
Parents and guardians will first notice symptoms in their children during the second and third years of life. Symptoms vary depending on the age of the patient and severity of the disease. Here are the “defining” symptoms of autism:
1. Delay or lack of development of spoken language. This is often the reason why parents will seek for help.
2. Those who are able to speak are unable to start or sustain a conversation with others
Many children exhibit echolalia i.e repeat phrases and words they hear.
Impaired social interaction-
1. They lack emotional reciprocity
2. John Elder Robinson, said; ‘and I know it is perfectly natural for me not to look at someone when I talk. Those of us with Asperger’s are not comfortable doing it. In fact, I don’t know why it is considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs”
Autistics lack non-verbal cues; they are unable to maintain eye contact, unable to understand and use gestures, lack facial expressions and other forms of non-verbal communication.
3. They are unable to adjust behavior to suit social contexts. Hence they are unable to develop, maintain and understand relationships!
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities,
1. They insist on sameness and adhere to routine in an inflexible way.
They may have to sit in a particular chair, dress in a particular way, or eat particular foods every single day.
They become quite distressed if a routine is disrupted.
2.Insensitive to pain or temperature, light or noise.
They are prone to injury since they can withstand extreme pain and temperature.
3.Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech –
simple motor stereotypes, lining up of toys, flipping of objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases
4 they have highly restricted and fixated interests.
They become fascinated with parts of an object for example the wheels of a car.
5.though some will have intellectual disability, others have normal intelligence. Some have very specific talents or abilities especially in music and mathematics. Susan Boyle?
Parents whose children have been diagnosed with autism live in constant fear. They worry their children will hurt themselves, they worry they will grow too fast and the world will hurt them, they worry they will have to face the world someday alone, and the world will not know how to handle them! These are all genuine worries. The good news is that there are others who have done it! I know that most of us have heard about Susan Boyle, but maybe we haven’t heard of other autists like John Elder Robinson, who grew up knowing he was different and was only diagnosed with autism(Asperger’s) at the age of forty by his therapist friend. He taught himself about electric circuits and sound waves and used the self- taught knowledge to design guitars and toys. Then there is Temple Grandin a professor of animal science, consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior and autism spokesperson and there is Kerry Magro who was diagnosed with autism at four but went on to beat all the odds and became a professional speaker and a best-selling author. These are just but a few of autists who have gone on to become great despite having autism. And who tells you that your child cannot become as great if not greater?
There was a time Temple Grandin wouldn’t talk! “I can remember the frustration of not being able to talk. I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not get the words out, so I would just scream.