Here we are, in an age where autistic spectrum disorders are becoming progressively more widely acknowledged, across all societies. They are nothing to be scared of, but to be aware of, and in fact it affects an estimated 1 in 100 children according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
We should understand the autistic spectrum, as I have learned to in teaching and learning environments, with the initial understanding that, if you know, or have known someone with a mild autistic spectrum condition, that’s not because they only have a ‘mild’ condition. In fact, it demonstrates how effective their individual and personal management has been, and recognise just how well they are doing.
Autism, or the conditions included in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refer to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges to social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication issues. Because autism is a spectral disorder, each person with autism has distinctly individual strengths and weaknesses, with the ways those with autism think and learn, their cognitive processes, requiring different levels of support in their daily lives, and in many cases, live quite independently.
We can’t look at Oman’s population and say that “We are okay, there’s no ASD here.” Actually there is, but maybe we tend not to look for it, feeling that it’s a label we don’t want, for ourselves or our kids. The signs appear early, around the ages of two to three, and early intervention has demonstrated positive outcomes later in life, for those with autism. Emerging initially as sensory issues, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, and attention disorders usually follow, but with familial care and support especially, can prove of very little societal disruption.
Of course, being a medically recognised condition means that in addition to medicinal and social support, some ‘quackery’ and mischief is often suggested as a cure-all, or restorative. Gluten-free, ketogenic, and casein-free diets and diet supplements, vitamin and mineral supplements, chelation, hormone therapies, blood-boosters, brain-boosters, and most weirdly of all pressurised hyperbaric oxygen therapy, are those most commonly wheeled out by the ‘fools in white coats,’ as working effectively. They don’t.
Autistic people may act differently to the rest of us, as they may have difficulty relating to how we think and feel about ‘things.’ Certainly, they will demonstrate a weakness in either visualisation as a cognitive or thinking process, verbal acuity as intelligent articulate speakers, or pattern, or process type learners. Yet, generally they will demonstrate excellence in the demonstrative learning process that matches them, in response to their lesser abilities in the others.
They will often take comfort in repetitive tasks or situations, such as classrooms and learning environments, even in their religion and faith. All children thrive on repetition, predictability, and patterns with routines a common element in most learning, as uncertainty is reduced. Mealtimes are one way to reinforce that stability, creating a ‘comfort zone’ of sorts. Those with autism certainly function more effectively in settled environments.
They will almost certainly have difficulty with communicating with, and interacting with, others, and consequently demonstrate unease in unfamiliar situations, social events, or being isolated. Their diversity not so much being tested or found wanting, but needing to be identified and supported. They will retreat from sociality, withdrawing into themselves, but early, supported integrations, are positive. Almost certainly, they will find bright lights, flashing lights, loud music, and unexpected noises, uncomfortable, to the point of distress, but honestly, all those things upset me too, in my maturity, so I can understand not coping in such circumstances.
Really, my message is that autism, whether you are “seeing it or being it,” as one with the condition laughingly said to me, is not to be scared of, or intimidated by. In real terms it may well challenge individuals and families, but the upside is the absolute determination to finish every task every hour of every day, to the best of their ability. As Dr Seuss wrote... “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”