Autism: Through the Looking-glass

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There is a magical world out there – different from the one most people know; colorful and out of the ordinary.  There are children who see their world in a magnificent yet complicated way. Let us take a peek through the looking-glass and venture into a realm where all senses are highly magnified – the extraordinary world of autism.

What is the Autism Spectrum Disorder?

ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a kind of neurological disorder wherein affected children have a developmental delay in the brain and experience various problems in all aspects of their daily life activities – emotional, physical, social and emotional. ASD or Autism is also referred to by medical experts as Asperger’s or Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

Different ASD categories

Like all kinds of developmental disorders, ASD children suffer from social stigma. In fact, people who are ill-informed may even view them as ‘a heavy burden’ at home, school and the community. Indeed there can be complicated cases of autism and not all autism cases are the same. That is why it is called a spectrum disorder. ASD is divided into three categories: Low-functioning autism, Mid-range autism and High-functioning autism.

Low-functioning autism: It is the most severe kind of autism where children suffer the most during their everyday activities. The mental, social, emotional and physical delay is at its highest. These children need round-the-clock supervision and a full-time caregiver or a nurse to attend to their needs. They cannot perform their everyday activities without assistance. Most of the times, their mental age is awfully behind their biological age – usually that of a baby or a toddler.

Mid-range autism: There is a developmental delay in the brain but these children can do physical movements and can perform some simple but limited everyday activities like taking a bath, eating and playing. They are categorized according to their ability to do a task and not by their biological age. For instance, though their biological age might be 7 years old, their mental age is only that of a 2-year-old child. They can go to a special education school accompanied by a shadow (an occupational therapist or caregiver who goes to school with the autistic child and takes part in the lessons and teaches them to a client or ward afterwards) or can be home-schooled under an occupational therapist or behavioral psychologist.

High-functioning autism: In this stage, the developmental delay in the functioning of the brain is not prominent because autistic individuals belonging to this category can perform their daily activities independently in all aspects of life. They can communicate and socialize. They can make decisions and have the ability to solve problems on their own. They can even go to a mainstream school and can participate in everyday school activities without a shadow. But they usually have an occupational therapist who pays a visit regularly to check on them.

Autism and Special Dietary Needs

One of the main things that should be taken into consideration when caring for autistic children, apart from giving them appropriate medical attention and getting behavioral analysis from experts, is their health and diet.

Autistic children are usually given the GFCF (Gluten Free-Casein Free) diet by doctors. Gluten is a kind of protein that can be found in grain products such as cereals, oats, wheat, pastas and cookies. Casein is another kind of protein that can be found in dairy products like butter, cheese and yogurt. These proteins – though beneficial to our body’s growth and development – can usually cause major problems in food digestion because they attack the gut system. The GFCF diet and use of medicine and other health supplements are methods implemented to prevent food allergies, rashes, diarrhea and vomiting – some of the common health problems which can cause stimming or repetitive behavior like rocking motions, hand clapping, head-shaking movements, laughing and other such behaviors. Organic food product sections are being set up in groceries and supermarkets because of the high demand. Pesticides are not used on these products. The fertilizers used on organic food are natural and not the ones with high levels of mercury and lead, which can be harmful to the body.


How do autistic children see their world?

They see every form, line and color from a different perspective. It is like an Indian festival of colors and hues; everything is bright like a neon light. They see much more than we commonly do. They are aware of every intricate pattern of their surroundings – walls, carpets, ceilings, clothes and floors. They are excited about anything that produces movement. They have very keen eyesight despite their difficulty in communication but can be very timid in the way they express their feelings. Though they see a lot with their eyes, they avoid looking at people’s eyes because for them, they are intimidating. They are naturally shy and often get a very awkward or frightened feeling depending on who is looking at them. If they are with strangers, most of them are aloof.

Expressing Emotions

The way they feel love is beyond human comprehension. They can love you to bits. They can cuddle, kiss and hug you to your heart’s content. But you can’t touch them without asking permission because your touch feels like a thousand needles pricking on their skin. But they love soft, fluffy materials and they adore the water. They have a rare affinity for water; every time they touch it with their hands and feel it on their body, a brand new sensation is unleashed. When they are stressed, water gives them a sense of peace, comfort and security. They can’t get enough of it. Bath time is one of the most joyful moments they can partake in without thinking about time. They can spend all day swimming. If they could only live in the water like Aquaman does, they would.

They can express their happiness and excitement through their laughter and hand gestures and oftentimes, through repetitive questions and behaviors. Seeing the smiles on their faces is like looking at the ray of sunshine in the early morning. They giggle like Winnie the Pooh when being teased by Tigger.  Their selective memory can remember all the good things of the past, often all the great childhood memories they have. You know they are happy when they keep on repeating their stories over and over again. They will never stop asking you about something they are excited about, even if they just asked you few minutes ago.

A Beautiful Mind

Their sense of smell is very active but they have their own preferences because they dislike strong odors, especially when they get a reaction, like rashes or headaches.

Their mind is like an abstract painting – difficult to understand but we know it is beautiful anyway. Their sense of hearing is quite complex so they hate loud noises. Little noises can also be a bit distracting and stressing. But soft, instrumental music soothes their souls. A lullaby song playing at night – no matter how old they are – is like a choir of angels singing in heaven and helps them fall fast asleep. They like listening to the sound of the bird coming from afar, the rustling of the leaves, the sound of water, and the soothing voice of their mother. They love pets but they easily get overwhelmed by younger animals. They can be best friends with older animals, like dogs, who are quiet, gentle, and act as guides to them.

Autistic Savants and Mental Capabilities

Despite of their mental and physical difficulties and the limitations that they face every day, there are special cases in which an autistic child shows a very significant talent in science, art, technology, computer or mathematics. They are called autistic savant.

A movie made in Hollywood in the ‘80s was based on the real-life story of an autistic savant, Kim Peek. The movie was called Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise, and Dustin Hoffman as the autistic adult.  At a very young age, Kim had read and memorized all the books in his father’s library in a short period of time.

Since then he was known as the man who had a very rare talent – a photographic memory. He had memorized all the zip codes in the US, the entire telephone directory, history books and all the presidents of the United States and other countries. Later in his life, he became a well-known speaker, talking about the disorder and his experiences until his death. These days, more autistic children are categorized as savants for the reason that they possess a very intelligent and beautiful mind – despite having a neurological disorder – something that baffles parents and the experts in the health and medical field.

Here is a list of the top 10 things that we need to understand about autism.

  1. Language Lack
  2. Temper Tantrums
  3. Noise/Sound/Smell/Touch Sensitivity
  4. Stimming or Repetitive Behavior
  5. Self-injurious Behavior
  6. Perceptual Inconsistencies
  7. Short Attention Span
  8. Habit of Orderliness
  9. Unusual Fears and Anxieties
  10. Varied and Different Learning Abilities

ASD and other kinds of mental disorders are usually problems for life for an individual. However, it doesn’t mean that they are hopeless. Recently, Wal-Mart hired autistic teens as merchandisers – because the job requires them to stack piles of goods repeatedly (something that they enjoy doing) and maintain their designated areas clean and well-organized.

With the support and guidance of their family, friends, caregivers, medical practitioners, occupational therapists, school and the community they belong to – they can become successful and independent members of society.

Mira Jaudalso
Mira Jaudalso is a freelance writer/blogger from the Philippines. A graduate of AB-Communication Arts from the Philippine Women’s University, she.became a feature writer for IBM Daksh’s Hirewire e-magazine after winning the essay writing contest. She moved to the Kingdom of Bahrain and worked as a caregiver for a boy with autism for ten years. She was a former Child Care trainer/volunteer at Filipino Institute of Bahrain.
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