Saturday, April 21, 2007
Vancouver Sun - The Many Faces of Autism
One fundamental point which is repeatedly ignored in discussions, debates and arguments over autism is that "autism" as discussed in the media is a spectrum of disorders which includes autism disorder and other related disorders eg. PDD-NOS, Aspergers. There are many faces of autism, many different characteristics. The Vancouver Sun has published a balanced and understandable overview of autism disorders and promises to present a series of stories portraying different aspects of the spectrum of autism realities.
"To understand the many faces of autism, first consider what it is not
Pete McMartin, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, April 21, 2007
Simply put, there is no one profile that fits those diagnosed with autism. So, to define what autism is, it might be best by pointing out what it is not.
IT IS NOT A MENTAL ILLNESS OR A DISEASE.
It is a neurological and, ultimately, a biological disorder that affects the normal development of the brain in areas of social interaction, communication and sometimes cognitive skills. Usually, that disorder manifests itself before the child reaches three. (More on those symptoms and their diagnosis in a later instalment.)
THE CAUSES OF AUTISM ARE STILL UNKNOWN.
AUTISM IS NOT A SINGULARITY.
It is a spectrum of disorders. On that spectrum are five related disorders, the three most common of these being classic autistic disorder (AD), pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger's syndrome. They share some behaviours but not others. Those with AD, for example, are often withdrawn and can be completely non-verbal, while those diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome can have normal verbal and academic skills but have extreme difficulty interacting socially with others.
THERE IS NO MENTAL STANDARD OR MEDIAN FOR THOSE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM.
Some have below-average intelligence, some are average and some are above average.
Additionally, mental abilities can be uneven. A person on the autism spectrum might be able to do complex math but be unable to tie his or her own shoes.
Some are capable of holding jobs and of living independently or semi-independently; some have the intellectual capacity to work but not the social skills to make their way in the work environment; some must receive 24-hour care their entire lives.
AUTISM IS NOT CURABLE.
It is a life-long condition. As one parent of a 12-year-old girl diagnosed with severe autism said:
"Parents have to understand:
"This isn't a sprint. It's a marathon."
The initial symptoms, however, can be ameliorated through a combination of intensive early childhood therapy and, it has to be said, the fierce and protective love of parents and family.
See www.VancouverSun.com for more from the six-day special feature
The story of a severe case, and life at home with an autistic child.
Two mothers, their tears, and the sacrifices they must make living with autism.
How the health care system discriminates against those on low income.
Immigrants and the special challenges they face in dealing with autism.
The high cost of therapy, and a mother's determination.
Two autistic teens and their families face an uncertain future."