Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), previously called Autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual – 5 (DSM-5) the criteria for diagnosing ASD, briefly includes:
– Persistent impairment in reciprocal social communication and social interaction
– Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, or activities
– Symptoms have been present from early childhood and limit or impair everyday functioning.
The disorder manifests differently depending on the severity of the autistic condition, developmental level, and chronological age; hence, the term spectrum disorder. Typically, the symptoms would be recognized during the age of 12-24 months. Although, it may be noted earlier or later depending on the severity of the developmental delays.
The causes of autism are still unknown but a combination of neurological, genetics and the environment are likely factors. Similar is the case for many psychiatric disorders and diseases. Despite that, autism is treatable and a wide variety of treatments are available to help support individuals with ASD. Early intervention and seeking advice from a qualified medical professional, both contribute to improved outcomes from treatments.
It is important to remember that there is more to these individuals than just their autism
Learning about ASD can help us better understand the individuals that live with it. For many Autism manifest as a divergence from social norms. However, autistic individuals are intelligent, empathetic, and capable of success in many ways and forms. There is indeed a lack of general awareness and discussion about autism. Hence, it is important to note that most of the research and awareness that does exist is centred around how non-autistic people should deal with autistic children rather than on helping autistic people navigate society.
There is so much emphasis on the “difficulty” of raising a child with autism. This is often traumatizing to autistic children and adults who are made to feel like an excessive burden. As a result of the nature of the discussion surrounding their condition. Parenting is difficult even if your child is not on the autism spectrum. Every child is unique and has unique needs.
Society and school systems cater for the “average”
Unfortunately, that excludes many kids such as those with disabilities, or on the autism spectrum. If a person has autism, it is difficult for them to operate in a world designed by and for people whose priorities, and the way they process the world are vastly different from theirs.
Autistic people, many of who are only diagnosed in adulthood have pointed out that the pressure to conform and the “treatments”, such as behavioral therapy, is far more distressing to a person with autism, than autism itself. Autism itself does not cause suffering, it just means the individual has different needs than their peers, especially in childhood. Many others, however, claim that these treatments suited them and helped them function more normally in society.
In South Asian societies in general, particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the battle for awareness of these diseases continues. The focus of much of the discourse is on how people living with Autistic individuals deal with them. Additionally, there is very little data or studies conducted on ASD to suggest prevalence within Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A more alarming aspect within these societies is the refusal to acknowledge Autism as a developmental disability. Hence, in these societies individuals with ASD might go unrecognized and untreated.
Common Characteristics of ASD Individuals
There are some notably common characteristics of autistic people, apart from communication challenges and unique social interactions. These include an inclination towards routines and a dedicated focus on certain subjects of interest. Autistic people process sensory information differently from non-autistic people. This means that they often take things literally or don’t understand or properly use social cues. It also means that an environment with too many sensory inputs can on occasion be overwhelming to autistic individuals. As they try to process them internally and also understand them in a societal context.
However, a unique thought process, dedication towards routine and often orderliness, and focus on a special interest can lead to autistic people often ending up successful and iconic.
Greta Thunberg is a world-renowned climate change activist. A teenager diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s syndrome is on the autism spectrum. She is just one example. Based on their recorded personality traits many famous artists, singers, writers, directors, and more are on the spectrum as well.
Autism is not something that holds an individual back from greatness, but perhaps society can hold back autistic people from many things due to the lack of awareness, and even more so, of acceptance of the condition. In fact, many autistic adults use Autism Awareness Week (and the rest of the year) to advocate for Acceptance, more than awareness.