Autism is one of the most written about disorders that few truly know anything concrete about. In 2010, researchers from the University of California at Davis published a study on the existence of clusters of higher-than-average rates of autism in ten areas in California. The one common factor these areas share? The parents possess higher-than-average levels of education.
According to Irva Hertz-Picciotto — senior author of the study, professor of health sciences, and a researcher with the UC Davis MIND Institute — “In the U.S., the children of older, white and highly educated parents are more likely to receive a diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorder. For this reason, the clusters we found are probably not a result of a common environmental exposure. Instead, the differences in education, age and ethnicity of parents comparing births in the cluster versus those outside the cluster were striking enough to explain the clusters of autism cases.”
Scientists don’t know what causes autism, but they believe it is a combination of genetics and environment. The Mayo Clinic defines it as “…a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning.”
Autism is not a tragedy
Sarah Kuchak is a writer who lives in Toronto. She is also autistic. She has written extensively about autism and what it is like to be autistic. Her latest piece appeared online in the U.S. version of theguardian.com. In the article, Kuchak makes it clear autistic people are not tragedies. She writes, “But once I started participating in awareness campaigns I found the same overly simplistic and fear-mongering message over and over again: autism is a crisis. According to the highly influential charity Autism Speaks — which doesn’t have a single autistic person on its board — autistic people are ‘missing’ – we leave our family members ‘depleted. Mentally. Physically. And especially emotionally.’” Kuchack says she is deeply offended the identity of an autistic person is characterized foremost as a tragedy. She adds no one deserves to be told they are a burden to loved ones.
Instead of pouring all funding and resources into finding a cure for autism, Kuchak argues for acceptance. “We want people to understand that everyone on the spectrum, verbal or otherwise, has value and we want to work so that everyone has a voice, be it verbal, written, assisted or otherwise.” She said she yearns for the conversation to continue about which modalities are effective and which are fruitless. Chiefly, Kuchak expressed a need to cultivate an atmosphere wherein autistic children aren’t vulnerable to fear-based punishment.
Woeful, harmful ignorance
Kuchak mentions the case of Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a 12-year-old autistic African-American in Virginia. Moon-Robinson was charged for disorderly conduct when he kicked over a trashcan at his school. After the incident, the school drafted a rule that stated Moon-Robinson must remain in class until all his classmates leave. When the he violated it, a school official attempted to take him to the principal’s office. Moon-Robinson resisted. The official — a security officer — allegedly slammed the boy’s head into a desk and then placed him in handcuffs. Moon-Robinson was later charged with felony assault. Virginia holds the dubious distinction of the state most likely to send students to jail. Another incident with another autistic African-American male, Reginald Latson, made national headlines in 2010. Latson, 19 at the time and with a 69 IQ, walked away after being ordered to stop by a police officer. A fight ensued in which Latson injured the officer. Latson was convicted and spent a year in jail before being released.
Kuchak concludes her article with the following: “Genuine awareness of autistic people, of our lives, our needs and our value, could greatly improve the lives of people both on and off the spectrum. Autistic people and our allies just need the rest of the world to stop spreading ‘autism awareness long enough to actually listen and gain some.”
Signs of spectrum autism
There are numerous online quizzes to help parents determine if their boy might have autism. Aspiranet is a family health website that provides information on autism. Their online quiz focuses on children 3 to 18. The quiz consists of 25 questions requiring either a Mostly True or Mostly False answer. The first five signs are:
- Doesn’t respond to name regularly
- Cannot explain what/he she wants
- Delayed language skills or lost language
- Does not follow directions
- Seems to listen sometimes but not others
Assuage the rage
If your child is increasingly getting into conflicts about his behavior and some of the symptoms of spectrum autism have raised red flags, there is help. Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Discuss your child’s situation with a school counselor or resource specialist, if available
- Channel your child’s energy in positive ways, such as doing heavy chores or intense exercise
- Art therapy — painting, drawing, and sculpting with clay — provides a healthy, creative outlet
- Ask your child to take several deep breaths to steady him
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