April is Autism Awareness Month and the perfect time to become better educated about this disorder in order to more effectively understand and interact with autism sufferers. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one out of every 88 children will develop an autism spectrum disorder.
Typically diagnosed within the first three years of life, the developmental disorder disrupts a child’s behavioral, communication and social skills. Autistic children have difficulty interacting with others and many times have limited or non-existent relationships with others. Educating children, family and community members about the disorder heightens the level of compassion and comprehension toward children afflicted with autism.
Symptoms of Autism
Children with autism may not show interest in the world by pointing at objects or volunteering verbal expression. They often avoid eye contact, do not respond when someone calls their name, and prefer being alone. Autistic children might react negatively if someone approaches too closely or attempts physical contact. They often do not engage in creative or imaginative play.
Children with autism might have difficulty with speech or repeat certain words or phrases continuously. Autistic individuals demonstrate unusual behaviors in response to sounds, smells, tastes and touch. The child might become easily upset or show aggression when confronted by changes in a routine or when hearing a loud, unexpected noise. Some of the physical behaviors displayed by autistic children include habitual hand flapping, rocking back and forth or spinning in circles.
Explaining Autism to Kids
Most children are experts at noticing, and often pointing out at the worse possible moment, people who are different from them. Often, when a child notices someone different or challenged in some way, they do not do so out of a mean spirit, but mere curiosity. It behooves society to take advantage of the natural curiosity of children, and start to educate them early about people who are different so that they learn to accept them, interact with them, and help them be successful in life.
People charged with talking to kids about autism might begin by explaining that everyone has special characteristics that make them individuals. Autistic children have very unique qualities that include experiencing the world around differently than most people.
These differences do not mean the child is not intelligent. In fact, many historic people suffered from some form of autism including Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Autistic children often appear unemotional, unwilling to communicate verbally or interact with others. People might mistake these characteristics as indifference or snobbery. Children and adults must resist the temptation toward becoming frustrated when attempting to interact with an autistic child. Communities or schools might organize a visit with an adult diagnosed with the disorder and have that person explain the difficulties they overcame.
Children with autism spectrum disorders process external information differently. Disorders affect children in individual ways and diagnoses range from mild to severe. While all children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder display difficulties with social interaction and other symptoms, each disorder varies with age of onset, severity of symptoms and types of behaviors.
Interacting with Autistic Children
When children diagnosed with an ASD do not communicate verbally, they may use nonverbal forms of contact. Children might cry, take someone by the hand and lead them to a desired food or object, look at the desired object or use pictures as communication.
Autistic children commonly have particular interests and discovering these interests often opens the lines of communication. With work and therapy, the child learns that their actions and verbal expressions have an effect on those around them. This realization influences the progression of communication skills.
Statistics indicate that autism spectrum disorders continue appearing in children at an accelerated rate. While many theories exist concerning a cause, scientists have discovered a number of gene anomalies associated with the disorders. Environmental factors may also play a role. With proper understanding from the people with whom they interact with on a daily basis, autistic individuals can lead fulfilling and successful lives.
Sandra Strand is a pediatric nurse and parent of two autistic teenagers. She believes education is key to understanding the needs of autistic children and adults, and she writes more about nursing education at Nursing Informatics Program Rankings.