As the series continues, we hope to address some of the more important issues related to Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To read previous published articles, visit: www.thedailystar.net/author/kiyoshi-bhuiyan
The previous articles have hopefully given us a foundation to help recognise the more common symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Now it's time to walk through why it is important to recognise these symptoms early and why we need to get the support put in place for children diagnosed with ASD as early as possible.
First thing's first: we should discuss why I believe there is a problem with both confronting the issue and dealing with it.
We know now that ASD is possibly not as clear cut as we thought before. Plenty of reasons behind this; variety and severity of symptoms or the fact that traits present on a spectrum as I wrote about in my previous articles.
It is important to understand that the difficulties faced by these children are often just as frustrating for them as they can be for us. Imagine trying to communicate an extremely urgent need to a person who does not understand your language.
I think we have all been in a situation where you feel like you are hitting your head against a brick wall, and something that you are trying to express just does not get through the person you are speaking to. For a lot of children with ASD this is a near constant feeling, they do not understand why their methods of communication are failing and how they can make people see that they are not lost or stupid, not troublemakers or obtuse: just misunderstood. Perhaps more importantly, they do not realise what they should be doing different, or what they are doing wrong.
Let's step back for a second and try to understand that: not only do they receive negative reactions to their actions, they can also not realise what it is they are doing wrong.
Children with ASD will very often choose isolation from an early age and not show much interest in playing with their peers. Knowing what we do now about their difficulties, we should not really find that surprising. It is an endless cycle of rejection and frustration. Without the proper help and interventions, they become stuck where all of their actions only serve to isolate them. Then as a result of isolation, their symptoms can become more pronounced.
We all have coping mechanisms that we develop for situations which we do not want to confront, staring at your phone while in an uncomfortable social scenario is a go-to for most people now.
For children with ASD, any social scenario can be an uncomfortable one, they could genuinely be unaware of why you have to smile, why you have to make eye contact, why not just walk away when the conversation becomes boring.
In society, we take these unwritten rules of social interaction for granted, we grow up with them and we understand them. For children with ASD, that is just not an option, that is simply something they may be completely unable to do.
An early detection and diagnoses then, becomes absolutely crucial. Intervention is also not one sided, what I mean is, it should not only be for individuals with ASD. Intervention programmes are for both for the child with ASD, as well as for their primary care-givers and friends. They work together in adapting and adjusting to each others' difficulties and come to a common beneficial framework that works.
Children with ASD may seem like they have no emotions, but they certainly do, a lack of the ability to express their emotions rationally, or what we might call 'normally' does not mean that they do not exist. Most times, people with ASD are not intending to be difficult, their innate inability to process and conform to social contracts just makes it appear that way.
I have worked with adults with ASD who have gone decades without treatment and the end results are extremely difficult, both for the care-givers and the individuals themselves. We must, as a society, not only make sure that they have the help they need but also to come to a realisation that we can and should do more to education society as a whole to understand their situation and most importantly empathise with their difficulties.