I knew this boy in my apartment; he was somewhat different from the rest of the children. Every evening when I would return from office, I particularly noticed this boy sitting in one corner of the park bench observing other children play. Never even for a day, I remember seeing him joining in a game of football or hide-n-seek. Sometimes he would give a shy restricted smile to the passersby whereas at times he was indifferent, completely lost in his own world. He never mixed up with other children and they didn’t seem to bother too.
It was on that particular day I got to know more about him and my opinion on him completely changed. It was his birthday. We were invited. Since I never saw him interested in playing, I thought he was the intellectual types and gifted him an encyclopedia. I was really proud of myself of understanding him better than the rest. Later in the evening, the birthday boy played a soulful piece of Bach on his violin. It was spell-bounding. I was mesmerized. Before leaving I decided to thank his mom for the invitation and congratulated her on such a talented child. His mother told me that the boy was autistic. He is mostly non-verbal and weak in reading and learning. But he plays violin exceptionally well and is a skilled painter.
We generally tend to term such people as ‘abnormal’. But little are we aware of the fact that autistic children have their own set of exceptional skills that even we ‘normal’ people cannot compete with. Here are some things that every parent and teacher should know about autism.
- Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder and every child with autism is unique. While some children are nonverbal and slow in motor skill learning, other children are exceptionally gifted with music, colors or math. Some experience difficulty in reading and writing and it takes them years to write their first alphabet, many children with autism are very intelligent and they start learning at a very early age.
- Every autistic child has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Teachers must be specially trained to understand the child’s shortcoming and use a learning style and technique that might suit the child’s strengths.
- Visuals and colors work better for children with autism. Instead of verbal instruction, teachers should write out a flowchart or some easy-to-follow steps in the classroom. Parents should help their children understand better by explaining a chapter with the help of visual aids.
- You cannot understand from birth if your child is autistic. It gradually starts developing with the second and third year. Some symptoms of autism that you should be aware of are –
- Non-verbal even at 3 years
- Communicative issues
- Sensory issues, ie., over-sensitive or under-sensitive to touch, light, sound, taste, smell or pain
- Being indifferent to surroundings
- Repetitive movements like swinging or running back and forth, flapping, and rocking
- Staring at light
- Fixated interest in a specific topic
- Autistic children usually coil about in social surroundings. It is difficult for them to interact with people or they start feeling awkward in a social setting. It is important to understand them and support them when out in a public place.
- The needs, symptoms and clinical diagnosis of every autistic child is different and very diverse. That is why autism is also called Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The term spectrum is commonly used in the condition. Some children might be very explicitly exhibiting symptoms of autism while others have no outwardly behaviors that are unusual to the human eye.
But above everyone, it is your love and support that autistic children yearn for. They are often bullied by their peers and they feel isolated. As parents and teachers, you should encourage them in their ventures.
There is no shame in being autistic.