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Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (February 2018)

Recently, my husband Tom and I had our Autistic nephew come live with us. Over time, I began to realize that although most people have heard of Autism, only a few know exactly what it is. Despite Autism being talked about EVERYWHERE, people still don’t quite get just what it means to be on the spectrum. Even family members that have been in my nephew’s life since birth, don’t completely get it! Due to this, I feel compelled to shed some light on Autism Spectrum Disorder in my first blog post.

Autistic children have the following problems:
These problems can be mild in one area and severe in another. Each Autistic person is different.

Behavior: They have trouble with self-control, particularly when they don’t get their way.
Communication: They have trouble talking and sometimes understanding speech.
Socialization: They have trouble making friends, starting, and maintaining conversation.
Cognitive: Some struggle to learn and have lower IQs.
Sensory problems: Sensory problems are often the most difficult concept to understand, but play a key role when it comes to understanding Autistic behavior. See my explanation below:

The easiest way I can think to explain sensory problems it is to reflect on the 5 senses that most people know. That being sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. When you have Autism, your senses don’t work in the same straightforward way that they would for someone like you, or me. For example, the Autistic individual may not like bright lights because it is painful for them to look at it. Or… they may love lights and seek them out throughout the day. Some may not like loud music because it causes pain in their ears, or they may love loud music and seek it in their daily life. They may not like certain textures of foods because it may cause a painful sensation on their tongue, or they may love how a particular food feels in their mouth and want to eat it all the time.

Something to think about is if you see an autistic person pushing away someone who tries to give them a hug, what does this say to you about their sensory system? To me, this indicates they don’t like to be hugged because it may be painful. It also tells me that their sense of touch is overly sensitive. With Autism, an individual’s senses can be under-responsive or over-responsive, which is what causes unusual behaviors, such as plugging their ears when they hear loud noises or staring into lights/ceiling fans for an extended period of time. My hope is that by recognizing these behaviors, we can connect the dots in society regarding the understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In conclusion, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a group of symptoms that include problems with communication, socialization, behavior and sometimes intellectual challenges ranging from mild to severe. Each autistic individual is different, thus, a range of severity. While one individual may have mild problems communicating, but have severe sensory problems (covers his ears when he hears conversation or music), another, may not have any sensory problems but have a very difficult time communicating socially (making friends and holding conversations). Just like all humans, each autistic individual is different and presents with a different set of challenges.

Now, when you meet an autistic individual and they have trouble looking you in the eye, or the conversation stops after a simple “hello,” you will know they are not being rude, they may just have heightened visual, sensory or communication problems. In fact, my nephew describes it as “painfully impossible” to look someone in the eyes and say “hello” at the same time. Something we don’t think twice about.

I look forward to telling you more about my life with my nephew. He is fascinating!!

Julie Cornack, M.A., CCC/SLP
Speech language Pathologist