Today is the tenth official World Autism Awareness Day, a day in which we spread awareness about autism. The internationally recognised day, citizens from around the world will be wearing blue garments and shining a blue light as a show of support for people suffering from autism. This year, seven continents, 142 countries and over 18,000 buildings will be taking part of the “Light It Up Blue” campaign as the awareness is commonly referred to. The theme of this year’s World Autism Awareness Day is “Towards Autonomy and Self Determination,” which aims to shed some light on the legal rights of persons with autism, and what institutions, governments, and guardians can do to aid them in living a purposeful life. Autisms as a condition associated with difficulties in socialising and communicating with other people, repetitive behaviours, and other symptoms. My neighbour has a tween girl who is autistic and can confidently say handling such a kid isn’t a cakewalk. Last week, i saw the kid sitting peacefully in the corner of the roadside where she seemed to be in another place, lost in a world of her own, humming and squeezing a plastic straw in her hand. Unexpectedly, she jumped up and run around, screaming loudly and twisting her face into a variety of expressions. Although the mother was just next to her talking on phone, the unpredictable and repetitive behaviour is typical for children with autism, a disorder of neural development that first appears during infancy or childhood. According to her mother, symptoms and severity vary greatly.Her daughter does not speak, and sits in the bottom of the autism pyramid, meaning significant cognitive improvements will requires enormous effort from her parents. “She told me the tween was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 years 1 month. My husband and I tried to deny it and search for options to cure our daughter, but after sometime we realised she was different from other children,” says the mother.Apparently the tween grew up as a very active child who struggled to talk. She never makes eye contact with her parents.
The tendency to avoid eye contact is a pervasive trait among autistic children.They have now enrolled the tween to individual therapy sessions where she is being taught how to count, read, write and also useful everyday knowledge, for example how to behave in a shopping mall. Of course, the levels of the autistics kids are very different and some can only learn around 20 new words according to the mother.I try to avoid thinking about her future, because it simply hurts too much.All the therapies needed have to be paid for by parents. A middle class family like ours struggles to pay for the full range of therapy, since it is very expensive. No insurance company is willing to take on an autistic child. The government doesn’t even realise the needs of autistic children and nothing concrete has been done to help them yet, says the mother.Until they started therapy, communicating with her was almost impossible. Her parents invited home therapists to teach her, but nobody knew whether the tween actually digested the lessons or had any understanding of her surroundings.“I had no idea whether my daughter had any thoughts at all. But when I almost gave up hope of ever communicating with her, one of the teachers at her kindergarten managed to unblocked her silence by teaching her to type with a simple device,” mother recalls. That turned out to be a massive breakthrough, with my daughter able to absorb more details and have a better understanding of things. Now her tween typing capability has improved although typing is still hard for her,” mother says. “One short answer can take hours to type. Between letters she might scream, jump or run around, so communicating with her is still extremely difficult and requires lots of patience.” Typing is also a burden for the tween as her mind often works faster than her typing skill level, which has lately left her feeling frustrated and not as eager to type. As we stood by the roadside, the girl reached for her mother’s phone to type a message. “I feel shy in front of Contador Harrison,” she wrote after more than 20 minutes of typing. What shocked the three of us, mother, father and myself was that she knew my name and could write it correctly.
Although the father invited me for a cup of coffee, when our chat was over, and it was time for the tween and her parents to head home. Her repetitive behaviour continued as swaying from side to side and knocks things over. The nature and behavior of a severely autistic child are not easy to understand. It may take years to adjust daily life to fully support the child’s needs. The father of the kids told me its a never-ending process and sometimes he still think ‘Why did my daughter turn out like this? What would her life have been like otherwise?’ It’s a question of a lifetime,” the father added.The number of children diagnosed with some degree of autism is increasing alarmingly everywhere. The prevalence of autism seems to be increasing although this is undoubtedly due in part to increasing awareness of the condition leading to more diagnoses. Poor record-keeping means a valid statistical analysis of autism is difficult.Many children with autism spectrum disorders also have underlying food allergies or sensitivities and gastro-intestinal problems that exacerbate and worsen their condition. By focusing on and improving the dietary choices of these children, these dietary changes not only improve their overall health, but also alleviate any inflammation caused by underlying food allergies and sensitivities. Therefore, parents like my neighbours need to check the credentials of therapy centers and therapists before entrusting their children to them as their choice of centre involves the welfare and long-term future of their children. Parents of children with autism know the kind of pain their children go through all too well as the case with my neighbour. I shared this story of my neighbours daughter as way of creating awareness about this challenging disorder by understanding that autistic children have the same rights and deserve as much love as anybody else. Please don’t ostracise them. I believe they shouldn’t be bullied, joked about or labeled otherwise and lets us all have aims to eliminate the myths and stigma attached to the disorder.Families like my neighbours should not feel guilty of their child’s condition. In my view, there is no shame or blame to give or receive for an autistic child as every child’s personality differs, so does an autistic child. Your blogger will continue to use this blog to work towards awareness and hopefully towards acceptance.