What is Autism? by Bianca Vella

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Have you ever thought about what autism is? Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD, is a disorder that can affect how someone can think, feel, communicate, behave and interact with others. I must admit, it is not a condition I had really given much thought to before my brother was diagnosed with Autism. I had heard a little bit about it on the tv, and I knew some kids at my school had autism, but I didn’t actually truly know what it meant to be on the ‘Autism Spectrum’.

Autism can affect anyone, although it is more common in boys (actually, they say that boys may be four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls). Autism is a lifelong disorder that will start when a person is born, even though it may not be diagnosed straight away. Autism can be identified from as early as 18 months to 24 months of age. I actually didn’t notice any of the ‘signs’ that my brother may have autism. Some of the signs can include:

  • Not responding when someone calls their name;
  • Avoiding eye contact;
  • Not smiling when someone is smiling at them;
  • Getting upset if they don’t like a certain taste, smell or sound;
  • Repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers or rocking their body;
  • Not understanding social cues;
  • Repeating the same phrases;

But even though there’s common signs, it is important to remember that each autistic person is different to one another. For example, some people with autism can find physical activity or controlling their behaviour harder than others with autism. That is why autism is referred to as a ‘spectrum’.

Although there is no cure for autism, there are lots of therapies available for people with autism. These therapies can help them understand social interactions, so they don’t get anxious or upset in social environments. Some of the therapies include behaviour therapies, play therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. As every person with autism is different, then so too are the therapies. There’s also some therapies that have no benefit to some children at all, so it is important for families to do what works best for them.  My brother does therapy most days, and we have seen some real benefits. Now Jayden is talking, he is making friends and he is learning new things every day.   

There are also other alternatives that can help people with autism, like a weighted blanket, which helps ease anxiety, clickers to help minimise fidgeting, elastics on chairs to help children sit still, massages and meditation to assist a person have a peaceful sleep. These strategies can be helpful for all people that struggle with things like anxiety or relaxation, not just people who are on the spectrum. We can share these therapies and strategies with everyone who might benefit from them, they shouldn’t be pigeon-holed as only being for people with ‘disabilities’.

People with autism tend to show patterns in their behaviour and in their interests, or games they like to play. It is also common for people with autism to like routine, so they know what to expect and there is no sudden change in their everyday life.  

It is important to remember that whilst an autistic person may have different traits or needs, that definitely doesn’t mean that they are any less than anyone else. And we should never underestimate people with autism, in fact, it is common for them to have special skills, like exceptional long-term memories and being good at visual tasks. Whilst someone with autism will face many challenges and difficulties in their life, with the help and support from family, friends and teachers they can achieve anything that they desire. And more importantly, those around them, can learn so much about the little things in life, slowing down and enjoying the things that busy people miss. And that’s what life is really about.

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