In the year 2011 my son was diagnosed with ASD, we were not at all surprised but we also didn’t know much about ASD. As most people who do not have anyone close to them who has ASD we only had an idea that did not at all looked similar in any way to our son. ASD is the term used for 2 years now and is short for Autism Disorder Syndrome and what it means is that if a person has 5 or more symptoms described as and Autistic symptom, this person is considered ASD. This means that this person is labeled as a person with special needs and in most Western societies will retrieve help.
Like many, the only previous exposure I and my partner had to ASD was “Rainman” which was acted immensely well by Dustin Hoffman. We never ever saw or maybe never noticed an Autistic person in our environment and thinking of our son being one was strange because he didn’t “look” Autistic. Still today, many tell me that my son doesn’t look autistic. I could take it as a compliment but I think it just proofs how little we know about ASD.
The dictionary gives us the following definition of the word “Autism” – (psychiatry) a developmental disorder whose symptoms include difficulty in responding conventionally to people and actions and limited use of communication
Note that there are no physical features described. It is easy to recognize a person with Down Syndrome but ASD is not something easily noted by physical features. I guess this is one of the reasons why my son does not look Autistic.
Once we got to learn more about the subject we learned about the “Spectrum” This is actually a scale from low to high functioning ASD. People with ASD always get an addition to their diagnosis to define their functioning. My son is diagnosed ver high functioning and between him and the very low functioning, there are many different hues. I guess that the name “Spectrum” is only right to describe the endless varieties of symptoms combined and the extent of them.
My son is verbal! This is not rare. Many think that when you have ASD you either do not talk at all or you have limited speech. This is not true. Though many have verbal challenges it is not uncommon at all to be able to pursue verbal communication. Another tale I hear very often is that all Autistic people are either geniuses or immensely talented. As much as I would like it to be true, there is no evidence found at all that this is true. What is true and may have contributed to this tale, is that some very famous geniuses were actually on the ASD spectrum. I can explain this in a logic manner and will later.
Now for some statistics! Most people diagnosed with ASD are Male! females with ASD tend to be relatively lower functioning but not as a rule. When a person with ASD has academic skills this person may have higher chances of success due to the persistence and obsess that comes with the condition.
I find it difficult and refuse to define ASD as a disorder. It may cause malfunction but I don’t experience it as a disorder. I prefer calling it a condition and my son and I have decided that for him this is a feature. Just like there is the light switch where you can actually tune in on the amount of light and adjust it there are switches that can only turn the light on or of and nothing in between. We don’t label these switches as malfunctioning but understand that they are different.
Since my son was diagnosed I have been exposed to many ASD children and their parents. I think that the best thing I got out of this condition is meeting so many wonderful parents and being able to share our experiences and support each other. By meeting these people I could also understand what we have in common and where our kids are challenged in society. I also learned that there is no kid with ASD the same as the other. It is not like a rash that may look identical between different patients. If it wasn’t for the parent we got to know and share our experiences with it would be a very lonely trip down the road of Autism.
My son does not look weird, If you’d see him you may agree with me how beautiful he is. He talks and shows interest. He likes to wear cool clothes and cares about others. There is no sign written on his forehead that says ASD. Just like many said; He doesn’t look Autistic. I wonder what an Autist is supposed to look like. A nonverbal Autist is not seen on the outside. Autism is not something you see but something you notice. If you would have a conversation with my son and you would not know he has ASD you may come to many conclusions such as, talented, bright, serious and more but one of them you may also notice if you have the ability is “lost” I even think that when I look at him I always see in his eyes that he is lost. The only moments I see this vanish is when he is with his ASD friends.
Just imagine you are put in a mall and you are required to run a few errands, The only problem is that everything inside the mall is in a language you don’t understand and no one understands the language you understand. No labels, no signs, nothing is written in a language you understand and the people do not understand what you want and you do not understand what they want. Besides all this the acoustics in the mall are terrible and the noise of the people communicating in this language you do not understand is literally aching your ears. If you can imagine this even a bit you may understand what a child or person with ASD feels. It feels lost and cannot find an anchor to hold on to and it causes frustration, the need to run away from this reality by holding on to things that make them feel secure and safe. For my son, this is running to his obsessions and it keeps him from doing anything else. His obsessions are his home base if you will and only there he feels in control. When he is with his ASD friends he feels equal to them and understood.
My son may not “look” autistic but he definitely feels one because the whole world around him is strange in his eyes. I guess, in his eyes, we all look pretty weird too!