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Some brief research about autism for those seeking resources and support
Autism (more correctly known as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD as of 2013) is a topic that is pretty close to our family. You see, my (step)son has autism and is medium functioning. He is a true autistic, having been nonverbal for many of his early childhood years. Intensive therapies have helped him improve in a lot of areas but he still struggles the most socially. His father, my husband, is also a high functioning autistic. He has a history of significant social and learning delays as a child, only made it through the 10th grade and a GED for his education, but has been able to survive, although not necessarily thrive in his life. His history is full of relationship and social issues. We suspect, due to severe social issues, that I may be high functioning autistic as well because much of my issues involve communication and social interaction as well as some obsessive tendencies and eccentricities. I too had learning delays but fortunately, a retired teacher tutored me for two years and then I have spent my life obsessively learning to overcome what I view as my weaknesses.

Autism basically is a brain development disorder in which certain skills do not develop properly, fully or in some cases, at all without significant intervention. They can manifest in a variety of social and learning difficulties including trouble with social relationships, difficulty with verbal and nonverbal skills (such as understanding facial expressions or body language), obsessive or repetitive body movements like clapping or rocking, and more. Many children show signs of autism at a very young age, around the time when verbal skills start to mature, which is 1-3 years old. Autism is also very prevalent - currently, the NMIH estimates 1 in 68 children has ASD. And the term spectrum means exactly that - many people with an Autism diagnosis fall into a spectrum based on their symptoms.

In our household, my symptoms tend to be the mildest and typically crop up the most in social interactions. I've spent two decades working to perfect my social skills to offset my weakness in that area, to the point that if you didn't know me very well, you'd never realize how much of a struggle it is for me every day. Oftentimes, it shows itself in me saying something without realizing how another person would interpret it and then being baffled as to how they interpreted it that way. I frequently will do or say things other people don't like and have no idea that I caused an issue. I have to put forth tremendous effort just to carry on a casual conversation. Simple things in a conversation will confuse me and my level of stress can increase this propensity to misinterpret things. I also overanalyze everything to a maddening degree (as my husband would attest). For me, I suspect both of my parents may have been autistic. My husband's mother most likely was autistic, as they lived his whole life like roommates. Neither of us had parents capable of empathy, and both of us, unfortunately, suffered terrible abuse and neglect from our parents. Both of us were unintended children (who then had unintended children ironically).

As a parent, there are some things to look for and possibly be concerned about in a young child. Here's some examples:

1) If a child doesn't respond to or recognize their name by 12 months. Rule out any hearing issues first, but this could be an indication of trouble with understanding verbal language.
2) Avoids eye contact and wants to frequently be alone. Young children are normally naturally curious and interested in learning about their environment. If you're not seeing your young child engage with their environment, toys, and people on a regular basis, that could be something to look into.
3) Becomes very upset by change - even minor change. Autistic children struggle to control every aspect of their environment and will become very upset over large and small changes. This might look like a fussy child on a day when there's no school, due to the disruption of their normal routine. Even a school field trip would lead to meltdowns due to it being different than his normal routine. With our son, the more relaxed weekends lead to more acting out behaviors so we try to maintain the same schedule every day.
4) Loud noises trigger a terrified response even when the cause & reason is known. For years my son would scream hysterically over loud noises - sirens, fire alarms, bells, and worst of all, thunder. He would stand, holding his hands over his ears and scream in terror long beyond the time the sound stopped and then would shake for a long time afterward. His body couldn't handle the sudden, unexpected, loud stimuli - it completely overwhelmed him physically, mentally, and emotionally. We grew to dread tornado sirens (which do happen in Texas). The bells in elementary school were hard for him to adapt to but occupational therapy helped him overcome that along with maturity. He's thirteen now and while loud noises still bother him, he's learned not to be as terrified by them. His father's cooking regularly sets off our fire alarm for some reason so he's become desensitized to that. Although a loud boom of thunder will still send both kids scrambling for me in bed in the middle of the night.

Autism is very unique to each individual, which can make it a challenge to understand. Having a household with three people with autism is challenging every day. Our motto is love, respect, and understanding. My daughter has dyslexia and early-onset schizophrenia as well so we have worked hard to create a caring environment for everyone, regardless of their challenges. I tend to spearhead this through research and as a result of my Paralegal training and my background. I try to be a role model and the emotional heart of the family, whereas my husband is the one who creates structure, routine, and strength. If you suspect your child may have autism, it's important to have him or her evaluated by an autism specialist who can then identify the areas of weakness and recommend interventions. While there's no cure for autism, it's about maximizing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. Finding strategies that work to create success. There are ways to work with it, to overcome some of the challenges, and be successful. Our entire family is living proof!

This video gives an excellent overview of what high functioning autism is: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/high-functioning-autism
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