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Understanding the reality
Autism is a disorder that is becoming better known and understood. Despite this, there are still a lot of misconceptions about it. What if we demystified them?
The word “autism” is often used in layman’s language, sometimes rightly or wrongly. So, what is this disorder that affects thousands of Canadian families daily? Today, the official term that is used is “autism spectrum disorder” (or autistic) or “ASD”.
The term ASD refers to a neurological condition affecting brain function at several levels. This brain impairment impedes the individual’s normal development and mainly affects the three following spheres:
There are large variations between individuals affected by ASD in terms of the age at which the symptoms began, level of functioning, and the nature and severity of its effects. In fact, each person affected by ASD faces unique challenges.
Although manifestations of the disorder largely vary from one individual to another, individuals living with ASD usually have difficulty engaging with others. They may have no interest for others or have interest, but not know how to act around them or be socially awkward.
Individuals affected by ASD also often have difficulty communicating with others. This may manifest itself by a total lack of verbal language (mutism), or by the inability or difficulty to carry on a conversation. Furthermore, individuals living with ASD may also find it difficult to interpret non-verbal cues of the people around them, such as unspoken comments, facial expressions or gestures.
Moreover, individuals affected by ASD often have a limited interest in certain things, activities or disciplines. They may have repetitive or compulsive behaviours. Routine and rituals are often very important for people with ASD, as this helps to calm them or better manage the anxiety they often feel.
Some mildly affected individuals are able to integrate into society and live normally and autonomously. You may very well frequent a person with an ASD diagnosis without even knowing it! However, people with more serious ASD require a lot of support throughout their lifetime.
It is estimated that between 9 and 12 individuals out of 1000 are affected by ASD. This represents roughly 1% of the Canadian population. Autism can be diagnosed during the first years of a child’s life or later on at school age. Boys have a higher risk of having it than girls. The condition is sometimes diagnosed once the person reaches adulthood.
The exact cause of ASD is not known. It is believed that several factors may come into play, such as genetics, brain development and environmental factors. One thing is certain, ASD does not discriminate: it affects people of both sexes, and of all origins and nationalities, regardless of lifestyle and education.
The basis of ASD management is individualization. Care must be adapted to each person according to the nature and severity of their difficulties. It is important to know that ASD is a condition that cannot be resolved or cured. The strategies used aim to reduce the impact of these manifestations to improve quality of life for those affected by it and for their loved ones.
Learning approaches, such as behavioural therapy, are frequently used. These approaches are intended to modify the person’s behaviour using various methods. Some medical approaches, such as special diets or the use of supplements may also be attempted. Using the services of various professionals (psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist etc.) can also be beneficial. In short, there are a number of possibilities, and an in-depth assessment often helps to determine the best possible care for a given situation.
Living with someone affected by ASD can sometimes represent a major challenge, but it’s possible to rise to the task successfully! The parents of a child with ASD often need support to optimize their parenting skills for the well-being of their child. Once they reach adulthood, people with ASD will probably still need support from family members and their community.
Everyone can help to improve the quality of life of those dealing with ASD on a daily basis. Getting to know them better and accepting them as they are, with an open mind and a tolerant attitude regarding their particularities and awkwardness, can make all the difference for their well-being and integration in the community. By being open-minded and trying to understand their reality, you can really help them. Additionally, you will most likely come to the following conclusion: what makes humans special is their uniqueness! Neurodiversity is a wonderful thing!
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