“Just looking at me, you don’t know that I am different. But what you don’t see is that I am disabled. I have an invisible disability.” That is what Keegan Williams, a high schooler from California, wrote about suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Theoretically, Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder which includes a broad range of conditions from the inability to process languages to having repetitive behaviours. Most symptoms develop by the age of 3 and usually last throughout one’s life. ASD is characterized by regression in communication, having a fair amount of trouble adapting to any change in one’s routine, not being able to understand others’ feelings or talk about one’s own feelings, avoiding eye contact and repeating words or phrases said to oneself, to name a few. Despite being the 3rd most common developmental disorder in the world, we deeply rue the fact that the masses still remain unaware about the condition and the assistance or facilities that are required to make the ones suffering be at ease.
To put that into perspective, here’s a demonstration made by a doctor on what goes on inside the minds of people who are autistic.
“It’s like having a microphone in your ears that catches every frequency- volume set to maximum”
“I don’t like wearing new clothes. I have a shirt assigned for each day of the week. If I don’t wear that particular one, I feel uncomfortable. I don’t know how to tell you, so I scream and cry”
Keegan also mentioned how when he was small, it would take him about 9 minutes to answer a normal question; and who would wait for somebody to answer for that long? Nobody.
The worst part, though, is not the inconvenience, but the lack of awareness about the disorder which ultimately leads to a delay in the identification of symptoms by the parents. A lot of times, the child is diagnosed and treated for Seizures , Schizophrenia or even mental retardation since there are no set of symptoms for Autism; they vary from patient to patient. The lack of basic facilities, improper diagnosis and low awareness deprives the kids of any kind of early help that might be beneficial. Even though there is no permanent cure, the early treatment services like Speech Therapy can significantly improve development.
The task in front of us is to get rid of the social stigma associated with such disorders, keeping in mind the vision of an inclusive society. We are well aware that a lot of people around us don’t have adequate information about this, considering that schools are not very willing to admit neurodivergent kids, employment is almost closed to them and the bullying they face in their day-to-day life has no bounds. Other than that, the parents face a large amount of stress because the society does not properly accept their kids for who they are. They need to create a customized environment where their child feels safe.
But the real question is: Can they successfully do that if we ourselves neglect the kid just because of certain qualitative impairments?
Today, 1 in 68 people have autism. It clearly isn’t uncommon, but the strangest fact of all is our ignorance of it. I was inspired to write about it after seeing its portrayal in ‘Atypical’, a TV series created by Robia Rashid. Along the same lines, I also read ‘Wonder’, a book written by R.J. Palacio, which deals with the experiences of a kid suffering from Mandibulofacial Dysostosis or Treacher Collins Syndrome. The impact such productions leave on us is to accept everybody for they are human. We don’t have to be ‘typical’ to fit in. Thus, Non- Governmental Organisations like ‘Action for Autism’ or the ‘Arvind Foundation’ are fighting to provide adequate services to people dealing with autism. The World Autism Awareness Day(WAAD) is also recognised on 2nd April each year to raise awareness about ASD. Hence, it’s clearly high time for us to be vigilant and concerned about what affects us in various ways and get over all the disgrace, just like Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas said, “If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.”
see you soon!