Why Is Awareness About Autism Important & How Can We Support Autistic Children?
This is a guest post for inclusiveteach.com. Autism is common but as deceptive as a chameleon on the bark of the tree it’s climbing on! You may be autistic, but still be unaware of it owing to the lack of diagnosis or awareness of how differently it presents in people. In fact, people in the early 1900’s were not even aware of it! Interesting right?
Let’s discuss why is it important to spread awareness about autism.
According to some detailed reports by leading newspapers like The Guardian and QS, it was observed that this lack of awareness had a negative impact on those with learning disabilities including autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder, language processing disorder, nonverbal learning disabilities, and visual perceptual/visual motor deficit.
Out of these learning disabilities, those with autism were severely affected as there is absolutely no distinction in this category. Autism is in fact a very nuanced disorder, with distinctions that are hard to differentiate from. Hence, before digging deep inside the facts and figures for raising awareness about autism, it is important to first understand what autism is!
What is Autism?
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders which are characterized by problems with communication and social interaction. People identified as having this learning disorder can exhibit restricted, stereotyped and repetitive interests or patterns of behavior.
This disorder can be a barrier to learning for some pupils, thus marking them way behind in the education graph corresponding to budding learners. [I would argue changes to the education system could help here – editor]. According to a report titled ‘Countries with the highest rates of autism among children worldwide as of 2020’ (Published by John Eflien, Apr 23, 2020), it was noted that around 222 per 10,000 children in the United States had autism spectrum disorder. One of the highest prevalence rates in the world.
In fact, around 3.63% of boys aged 3 to 17 years had autism spectrum disorder compared to 1.25% of girls. Statista, a prominent statistical website stated that Hong Kong had the highest rate of autism in children with over 372 out of 10,000. This could be a result of better identification or understanding. According to the National Autistic Society, more than 1 in every 100 of the population are autistic. This equates to 700,000 people.
What to Look Out for – Are there “Symptoms”?
To be honest, breaking down the idea of autism on account of its “symptoms” is extremely hard. It is also not fair. There is no distinct pattern to be observed when it comes to a neurological condition. Autistic people can have problems in behaving, communicating, and interacting in social groups. Recently this view that the problem lies with Autistic people is being challenged. Work by Autistic researchers, like Dr Damian Milton who put forward the “Double Empathy problem”, suggests that miscommunication and understanding should be viewed as a two-way issue.
Most of the parents of autistic children, in one study, noticed issues by the time their child reached 12 months, and between 80% and 90% noticed issues by the age of 2 (What are the symptoms of Autism – Rennee A. Allie). Yet there are definitely some common behaviors that are noticed among young children. These can primarily be demarcated on two grounds:
- Based on Social Skills: Children with autism tend to show problems with interaction among people, irrespective of them knowing each other. They may want to build cordial relationships with those around them, but they won’t be knowing how to do that. In layman’s terms, a child would crave to be friends with a popular kid in the class, but would rather abstain from it, not because of the lack of confidence, but rather because they would not know how to proceed.
Generally, they would prefer to be alone, avoid eye contact and appear uncomfortable in situations that would usually make a child of a similar age grin. Hence, they would lack standard neurotypical social skills.
- Based on Communication Skills: In terms of effective communication, an autistic child may lag behind their peers. Whilst expressive communication at a word level is comparable other measures such as tonality, facial expressions etc may look different. According to ‘Symptoms of Autism’, a research paper by Renee A. Allie, about 40% of children with autism spectrum disorders don’t talk at all. Around 25%-30% develop some language skills during infancy but then lose them later.
Only after later stages, do some children learn how to talk. It may be worthwhile consulting a professional if you work with children who display a tendency of not understanding sarcasm/jokes, or appear utterly confused to generic questions. These children exhibit delayed response, have issues in using pronouns, and often present echolalia or the tendency to repeat phrases over and over.
Other common patterns of behavior include impulsiveness, fussy eating habits, repetitive behaviors and so on. Children with ASD will have symptoms throughout their lives, but it’s possible for them to get better as they get older with the right set of schooling at the right age.
Are there any causes of Autism?
The question that arises in one’s mind after the diagnosis of Autism is the cause behind it. Over the years, medical sciences have not yet come across a defined root cause of autism.
Student anxiety in the early years of a child can severely affect a child’s social skills and magnify the symptoms of an autistic child, but it cannot be a direct reason to cause it.
Complicated pregnancies, advanced parent age, and pregnancies spaced less than a year apart increase the risk of the child developing autism. But what has to be noted is the fact that these causes stated above increase only the risk of developing autism, and are not to be treated as definite reasons behind the same.
How Can Parents Support an Autistic Child?
We acknowledge that the children suffering from autism need special schooling, then why is it that 71% of them still study in traditional schools? According to the National Autistic Society, the curriculum taught in traditional schools doesn’t cater to the needs of those suffering from these developmental disorders. Reports from major schooling platforms suggest that a customized curriculum and multiple engaging activities could possibly help in meeting the needs of a child with autism, and in coping up with other students on the mental plane.
Can an autistic child go to mainstream school?
There are countless benefits of mainstream school for autistic students.
At an online school, world class content is available to students at the click of a button in the comfort of their homes. The world is changing and technology is slowly taking over education with innovative and intuitive techniques. Autistic students could possibly benefit from the flexible curriculum system taught by certified teachers from around the world. These teachers are highly trained and skilled in their approach towards dealing with students with different needs.
We must understand that no child is the same, and needs his/her space and the right set of guidance for their holistic development. And to abide by their thoughts, besides instilling the core values of ethics and morality, they sketch out the needs and wants of the children to nurture and hone their talents.
Being true to their vision and commitment, they have students who are performing well in all aspects of life and are proud of building up responsible individuals. The interactive activities and the unique teaching methodology with a good online school assures that every child acquires practical knowledge of the subject he/she is taught, thus ensuring that every child, studies the concepts well.