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Celebrating World Autism Month

Exceptional prodigy and American savant Kim Peek once said, “Recognizing and respecting differences in others, and treating everyone like you want them to treat you, will help make our world a better place for everyone.” 

The WHO estimates that there are one in 100 children with autism worldwide (World Health Organization, 2022). If you are unsure what that means exactly, don’t worry, you are not alone. This is why World Autism Month is so important, and we should all be learning about this much-needed topic. Spend the month of April, and specifically April 2nd, Autism Awareness Day, celebrating and spreading knowledge about the condition!

What is Autism? 

The American Psychological Association (APA) and World Health Organization (WHO) (Jadhav, 2021; World Health Organization, 2022) describe Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a spectrum of conditions that contribute to varying degrees of difficulty in social interaction, limited interests, and repetitive behaviors. ASD is a complex developmental condition, meaning that it could be a lifelong condition, but with persistent treatment, the symptoms can be reduced. Some behavioral and social symptoms may be associated with autism, including:

Social Skills 

  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact 
  • Begins speech at a later age than average
  • Not interacting with other children as per usual

Behavior and Repetitive Habits

  • Extreme attention to organizing toys or objects in a certain manner 
  • Becoming extremely upset if this organization is ruined or changed
  • Has obsessive interests in certain things and disregards everything else

Other Symptoms 

  • Unusual sleeping and eating habits 
  • Extreme fear or lack of things 
  • Unusual emotional reactions to things.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022)

People on the autistic spectrum do not all have the same characteristics as one another; every individual is different in terms of their social skills, verbal or nonverbal skills, and intellectual ability (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). They also do not have a physical feature that defines their disability. However, this disorder can cause some co-occurring conditions, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and ADHD (World Health Organization, 2022). 

Causes of Autism 

The likelihood of being diagnosed with ASD comes from several genetic and environmental factors. However, coming across one of these factors does not mean the individual will be on the spectrum. For example, having the gene associated with Fragile X Syndrome or Tuberous Sclerosis increases the chances of being diagnosed with ASD. ASD can also result from taking certain medications during pregnancy, pregnancy complications, being born to older parents, or having a sibling with ASD. One thing for certain is vaccines have no association with developing ASD (Jadhav, 2021). 

Treatment for Autism 

As mentioned, ASD is a lifelong condition, but the symptoms can be reduced with different types of therapies and interventions to allow people with autism to function and interact with others normally. Namely, social skills training is helpful for those with autism to learn the appropriate social skills for interacting with others. Individuals with speech and language difficulties can attend speech therapy to learn the correct pronunciation of words and gain an understanding of language. Occupational therapy aims to help those who need additional help in daily tasks, such as holding things properly. Parents also undergo training to learn how to handle unexpected outbursts and how to offer aid in controlling them. In group therapy, parents and family members can also meet other parents to build community and discuss their struggles and tips for better supporting their children. If a psychologist deems it necessary, they can also prescribe medications to help with symptoms of autism and co-occurring conditions (Jadhav, 2021). 

What can we do to spread awareness? 

Despite the knowledge gained from research, autistic individuals still fall victim to discrimination, either because others find their behaviors odd or because they may not know about the existence of ASD. This is why World Autism Month and Autism Awareness Day are celebrated worldwide, to spread knowledge and remove the stigma held against people on the spectrum. 

As a parent, when your child has questions about a classmate with autism, allow your child to ask questions and listen to their concerns, but be ready to explain to them how everyone is different and special in their own way. Let them know that their classmate has different methods of communicating with others and expressing their feelings. Depending on your child’s age, you can explain what autism is in simple terms and why they may behave differently in class. You can also provide them with autism-related books and media. Most importantly, encourage them to make a connection with their classmate and nurture their sense of empathy. Let them know that they are just like us, with interests and hobbies, but with a few differences (White, 2018). 

For yourself, the first step is to find resources to learn more about ASD. Taking the time to educate yourself will help you better understand what ASD is and remove the barrier that unintentionally creates a stigma. You can then help others change how they think about ASD by sharing the correct information and being a positive role model by making everyone feel included (PediaPlex, n.d.). 

As part of the campaign Light it up Blue by Autism Speaks, many locations worldwide, such as the White House and Niagara Falls, light up blue lights on April 2nd in solidarity with ASD (ABC7 News, 2020). 

Autism Success Stories

Being diagnosed with ASD does not halt an individual’s potential or stop them from achieving personal goals. People with autism need not let the condition stop them from finding success, whether in fulfilling personal relationships, finding a workplace that suits their needs, or completing secondary education. One story comes from Anita Lesko, a nurse anesthetist who was diagnosed at 50 years old with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition under the ASD umbrella. She shares that she never suspected anything but found it odd that throughout her life that she was never quite able to fit in and had suffered from sensory issues that didn’t bother those around her (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). 

There are also plenty of famous people that you might not realize have been diagnosed with a form of ASD. For example, entrepreneur, CEO of SpaceX, and creator of Tesla cars, Elon Musk, has revealed that he has Asperger’s syndrome. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is also open about the fact that he has a hard time socializing and taking things too literally due to his autism. Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Leonardo Di Vinci are just a few well-known historical figures who are thought to have ASD but were never formally diagnosed due to the limitations in understanding at the time (Hurley, 2021).

A Word from Dean (D.N)

Dean is a senior student here at Raffles American School and is set to graduate this June (2021-2022). Dean has autism, and throughout his years in RAS, he has come a long way in enhancing his social and communication skills with the help of our special education teachers. He has even given a TEDx Talk about his experience with autism and has built a website to further spread information about autism. 

Hi, everyone. I’m D.N. How are you doing? I’m a Grade 12 student who studies at Raffles American School. I’m the only student at Raffles who did a TEDx speech at the Kuala Lumpur TEDXYOUTH event. I have a public website and also did some interviews as well. I have played percussion in band class for almost five years. I want to become an elementary teacher in the future to contribute and dedicate myself to society. I believe that finding an opportunity and holding it is the key to becoming a successful person. As Autism Awareness Month comes up, I believe we can have more respect and inclusiveness for each other as we go forward. Thank you, everyone, for helping and supporting me as I go through the barriers. Have a wonderful future ahead. 

 

Click the link below to visit his website 

https://sites.google.com/rafflesamericanschool.org/autism/home%E5%AE%B6 

References

ABC7 News. (2020, April 2). Autism Awareness Day 2020: What to know about the Light it Up Blue campaign. ABC7 San Francisco. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://abc7news.com/autism-awareness-day-month-world-light-it-up-blue/3290486/ 

Bell, J. (2021, February 9). Inspirational quotes from famous people on the autism spectrum. Big Think. Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://bigthink.com/neuropsych/famous-people-with-autism/ 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Anita’s Story. CDC. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/features/living-with-autism-spectrum-disorder-anita.html 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? CDC. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html 

Hurley, K. (2021, July 14). 20 Famous People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Behavioral Innovations. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://behavioral-innovations.com/blog/20-famous-people-with-autism-spectrum-disorder-asd/ 

Jadhav, M. (2021, August). What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/autism/what-is-autism-spectrum-disorder

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