What is Autism & How we Talk About it
Our VP of Education, Erin, says that the best way someone has explained autism is a "social learning disorder." Those with autism do not pick up the social cues in a way neurotypical people do but that does not mean they do not want social interaction. In fact, many seek friendships and relationships but do not have the guidance to form them. That it is essential that we are aware and empathetic of all of those around us.
Using empathetic and thoughtful terminology is essential when talking about autism spectrum disorders. Terms such as ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and NT (neurotypical) are used, however, we do not believe any individual can be explained by a label.
We do not place “autism,” “autistic,” or “ASD” as an adjective before a person, rather we say something along the lines of “an individual with autism.” This way, we do not give the impression that autism defines a person nor is powerful enough for us to remain helpless.
Similarly, we do not capitalize the "a" in autism (other than when it is grammatically appropriate) since in doing so, we redirect the power and control to the individual and not the diagnosis.
Sash, our VP of Medical Outreach, has created a sculpture titled, "What is Autism?"
In the middle east where he is from, autism and other developmental disorders are often shunned and silenced. It is treated like a disease that could be caught. Those who are desperate to have social bonds are pushed away and we need this to stop. We have to take off our gloves and masks and unwrap the stigma and taboo surrounding autism. This is the only way we can build a stronger future.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a life-long neurodevelopmental condition characterized by social learning difficulties whose behaviors begin to manifest from late infancy to early childhood. Around one percent of the world population has autism, making it one of the most prevalent diseases in the world. More children are diagnosed with autism than cancer, Down syndrome, diabetes, AIDS, cerebral palsy and Cystic Fibrosis combined (Oberman et al., 2015). Unfortunately, many individuals with autism never get diagnosed or get diagnosed at an age where deterring problematic behavior is extremely difficult since we are most malleable at younger ages. Without diagnosis, there is no clear path for the treatment which can cause great stress for families and individuals affected by autism.
There is no test for autism; only the expertise of a clinician can give a diagnosis of ASD. Currently, the earliest age autism can be reliably identified is age two, although there are a few preliminary methods to detect at an earlier age (Randell et al., 2018).
Despite the availability of methods for early diagnosis, the average age at which a child receives a diagnosis of ASD is between 4 and 5 years (Zwaigenbaum et al., 2015).
There must be an effort to minimize the time lag between presentation of autism symptoms and official diagnosis and treatment.
Although the etiology in autism is not clear, research has shown that children who receive autism-appropriate education in earlier developmental stages are more likely to gain essential social skills and integrate better into society (Roberts et al., 2011).