Sayings like “You’re acting autistic!”, “People will think you are autistic” and “That’s something an autistic person will do” are slowly creeping up into the diction of millennials. As if not knowing what Autism was 10 years ago wasn’t bad enough, insensitive and utterly imprecise and disrespectful comments such as these have worsened the general public’s understanding of mental conditions, making life harder for the specially-abled. As if the uncooperative administration, harassing procedures and a highly judgmental society isn’t a handful.
So what is Autism exactly?
The National Autistic Society of UK defines Autism as a developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. ”Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently compared to other people. Autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured‘.”
An important aspect is the fact that it’s a spectrum condition, meaning autism is different for every individual affected and their behaviour cannot be compared to each other’s or to a textbook definition. The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism. Some autistic people may have learning disabilities, others may have trouble communicating through speech. Other conditions which accompany autism in people are gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.
What causes Autism in people?
A combination of genetic mutations and environmental factors is believed to cause Autism. The exact genetic mutations are yet to be known to doctors. All that can be said is that a healthy lifestyle, especially during pregnancy goes a long way to prevent autism in newborns.
The Autistic Behaviour
Autistic people have a different perception of everything. They may appear to behave unusually but there are reasons for this – it can be an attempt to communicate, or a way of coping with a particular situation. While normal people may find this weird, autistic people are just doing things their way.
Obsessions, repetitive behaviour and routines can be a source of enjoyment for autistic people and a way of coping with everyday life. They may also limit people’s involvement in other activities and cause distress or anxiety.
Reality to an autistic person is a confusing and interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights… Set routines, times, particular routes and rituals all help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life. Trying to keep everything the same reduces some of the terrible fear. – From an autistic adult.
The problematic crux of the condition lies in childhood when all development should take place in an individual. The only effective method to improve the development of autistic children is therapy – speech therapy, focus therapy etc.
The plight of Autistic Children and their Parents
Having learning disabilities coupled with ADHD (Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), makes schooling very hard for most autistic children, especially in India. They are often hard to control by teachers and listen only to trusted ones like parents or caretakers when it comes to discipline. Most autistic children do not grasp the concept of discipline and respond only to fear.
They aren’t good at communicating either and seldom initiate conversations on their own. This puts them on the back foot with peers and also school authorities. Not only does this cause them to not have friends, but also get bullied when other children know they cannot speak to defend themselves.
Situations like these are just to name a few of the many. It isn’t as much as our lack of patience as it our ignorance of their problems that cause them to feel harassed.
What if schools made teachers aware of the needs of autistic children? What if parents taught their children to be considerate and be friends with all? All autistic children could then go to normal schools instead of special schools. But is that enough?
It would be if normal schools granted admissions to autistic children easily, or at all. Most schools do not admit children with learning disabilities, quoting the fact that their teachers aren’t trained to handle such children. In India, most autistic children switch 4-7 schools by the time they finish secondary studies and that says more than something about our society and the government when it comes to the needs of special children.
What are the provisions of the law?
Most autistic children were unable to write secondary school examinations, let alone write them smoothly, before the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. The act provisions for autistic children to be able to attempt the same exam papers as the rest of the exam-takers with the aid of Amanuensis (dictation), Scribes, Prompters, Readers and Writers and also extra time. They are also not required to write second language papers and their grades are calculated out of a lesser number of subjects.
However, to be able to benefit from the provisions, an autistic child needs to undergo 5-6 strenuous rounds of assessment at certified Government Hospitals or special centres dealing with learning disabilities to be certified as a “special-child”. The dearth and inaccessibility of such centres coupled with time-consuming assessments are not ideal for a student in his/her exam year, or even his/her parents for that matter. This is where the whole matter of questioning the assessment of a child’s abilities only through final exams and not continuously comes into the picture. The Government needs to understand the Autism Spectrum before they can make sensible changes.
What am I trying to say?
Autism is not a disease but a difference, and we all fail to see that. Our ignorance causes us to judge autistic people when in reality, we don’t know the autistic behaviour or the troubles that autistic people and their families have to undergo in order to secure their rights. Bringing up an autistic child is a herculean task for parents and the family. More than autistic children and people themselves, parents and families endure a lot mentally – from having to deal with social stigma to taking their children to hours and hours of therapy to repeatedly having their children questioned and assessed. There is also a huge need for support groups and forums where people can seek help and advice.
Social acceptance and support can go a long way in relieving the difficulties faced by autistic people and their kin and it’ll start when we all open our eyes to the truth instead of acting immature and conservative about Autism. Accept Autism as a difference and not a disability.
Spread the word this Autism Awareness Month…..