April is Autism month. I like it when a month is dedicated to something specific. It gives us a scheduled opportunity to learn and think about the subject.
I have studied, known, and worked with autistic children and adults for many years. The workings of the brain continue to be so mysterious and elusive.
Here is what we think we know:
The etiology or causes of autism are neurological and genetic. The psychiatric diagnostic code is identified as PDD-NOS or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.
Autism affects language and social behavior. The spectrum is wide and encompasses people with no language to those who demonstrate brilliance in vocabulary and remarkable rote memory related to specific subjects. But their analytics ? and behavior are off. We used to call these people with social issues quirky or peculiar. Sometimes they were appreciated and considered “interesting”; other times they were bullied or shunned. Nothing on that score has changed.
Here is what we know for sure:
Autism has absolutely nothing to do with a vaccination to immunize us against measles or other childhood diseases. Most of these had been cured, but are coming back internationally, because of the parents who think they know more than science and medicine and refuse to get their kids inoculated, making babies and others vulnerable, all in the name of “freedom of choice.” The study that showed a link between vaccinations and autism has been shown to be fraudulent and has been discredited.
We know that more than 300,000 are on the spectrum in the United States, at least 15,000 of whom live in Michigan, and 80% happen to be boys.
We know that early intervention is not only helpful; it is critical. The brain needs to be trained to engage in appropriate social behavior and the use of language.
Here is what we want to know:
To what extent is the anatomy of an autistic brain different from a typical brain as the result of autism?
Which of the changing medications and numerous treatments are actually effective?
What is the best way to parent and teach children on the spectrum?
I have been working with this population of children for more than fifty years. I have learned that I can expect a “meltdown” if I challenge their knowledge, so I must listen patiently.
I have learned that perseveration is typical. No matter what we are studying, it will always come back to dinosaurs or sewer systems, or whatever is that child’s focus.
I have learned to limit the number of questions and the number of minutes (by the clock!) on the child’s subject of passion.
I have learned that many on the spectrum may not make eye contact with another person; they typically look at the mouth, rather that the eyes.
And many are tactile sensitive. Not only do they not want to be hugged or even touched, they cannot wear fabrics that are scratchy or itchy
I have hired teachers on the higher level of the spectrum. Their students love them because of their quirkiness and amazing amount of knowledge in their subject specialty.
Most kids learn and grow up in spite of their teachers and parents. These, children, however, succeed because of us.