As a quick disclaimer, this write-up is not a professional literature on what autism disorder is all about, but rather an expository of a personal experience as a father of a kid who’s likely to be on the spectrum. April being the autism awareness month, it validates discussing it, the diversity it envelopes and as a referential point of view, the personal experience that could differ from one person to another.
In the western world where healthcare is advanced, millions of children are continuously diagnosed with autism disorder. Autism is not a disease, per se, but rather more of a brain formation and function that differs from the general ‘norm’ that could have a genetic imprint.
Oxford dictionary defines autism as a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.
It is a spectrum, meaning there is a swath of variations of how someone with autism would particularly behave from being severe, where the kid cannot speak or coordinate themselves with notable abnormal behaviors to quite mild where it is hardly noticed to the point that it is not any different from the normal behaviors.
It is understandable that it takes professional evaluation to diagnose a kid or an adult with autism. But in some cases, it is quite apparent from the known signs displayed by an autistic person and even so, from a tender age as three months after birth.
I didn’t know what autism was before we had our second daughter. The assumption that a kid is simply not smart if she or he is a firstborn (dan fari) and a host of other reasons not scientifically proven that would have no substance as to why these children have developmental problems is widely believed in our society. In a severe case where a kid has speech impairment or general disability in the body coordination and function, other things such as spirit possession, madness, are easily attributed to such a kid.
I had a cousin who was about my age and born a twin. I gathered that he and his twin brother were seemingly healthy at birth and up until around the age of two or three when he fell ill. After recovery, he withdrew and stopped being the cheerful healthy little boy he was. To cut long story short, from that illness, he never spoke again, he drools saliva, and never had coordinated body function throughout his life.
That could be a severe case of autism regarding the things he does that signifies the occurrence of the disorder. These include stimming (repetitive behavior), non-verbal, sensory stimulation etc. with all these signs, his case could still be entirely a different thing from autism could be a different disease that affected his brain and messed up with how it functions because he was never diagnosed with anything to be sure.
According to stories about what he was like before the age of three, he was very healthy prior to the fateful illness. it might be that he did display the tendency of being autistic even before the illness if his case was the autism disorder. In the absence of a professional diagnosis, we would never know. Some parents around the globe would claim that their kids were totally fine until an event of sickness like in his case.
Autism disorder is still not very much understood. The medical community hasn’t yet pinpointed why autism occurs in children in the first place. Some blame the vaccines the children are jabbed with others think it has to do with the amount of chemicals in our foods, stress level, and the environment in general. a large portion of the medical community believes it could be genetic with hereditary tendency. To this point, there is no known procedure that prevents children from being born with autism.
From what I observed, most of the autism cases in our society are mild (a formal study need to be conducted to support this as true or otherwise). By mild it means the children with the disorder blend well despite initial difficulties while the symptoms resolve over time (if that is a possibility).
Unless you are an experienced parent or one who had a kid with autism before, you may easily miss the early signs. These signs include avoiding eye contact, a baby not babbling after 12 months, not playing with other kids, obsession with particular objects, repetitive behavior, delayed speech, and many more depending on the kid. And even if you had such experience with a previous kid, you may still not catch it in another because each case is different and unique even though most of what was mentioned above or a combination of some of them is almost there in nearly all cases.
A friend of mine first introduced me to what autism disorder is. He had a kid who was nearly five years old but who couldn’t toilet-train or talk in addition to the symptoms mentioned above. Because they live in the US where such diagnoses can be carried out, the boy was diagnosed with near severe autism at age four. Meanwhile, my second daughter was nearly two and not speaking. I did not see any reason to be concerned because some children do start everything including speech late. And, I’m always of the opinion that our kids’ developmental phase could be different from that of the kids in the western world. And that is not because they are superior but rather because of the environmental impact obtainable. So I tend to believe that what might abnormal in the west could be perfectly normal here due to our contextual peculiarities (again, a study needs to be conducted to verify this).
By the time she was three, I started paying more attention when she continued to display other signs such as not playing with other kids, not responding when being spoken to, always throwing tantrums, lack of concentration, not responding to a scary situation with fear, repetitive behaviors, and others that I came to learn are symptoms of autism.
I started asking my friend more about his son and told him what I was observing in my daughter. Soon it dawned on me that she might be on the autism spectrum as well, and I was ever grateful to have discovered that at her tender age even if not through a professional diagnosis. Sometimes the parental instinct is the best wake-up call where their children are concerned. I would rather take measures that will correct her condition early when same is still possible than wait until it is too late.
Because at this point, when they are still at a tender age a lot of things can be controlled while the brain is at the stage of super learning. The target will be to steer them to the ‘normal’ direction that other kids are taking on their own without external input. To correct socially not accepted behaviors and to teach them to communicate properly because autistic kids see no reason to communicate to anyone the way normal kids do. An autistic kid might decide to only cry whenever they have a need for anything including food, sleep, or even comfort. It is up to the parent to be able to go into their heads and know what they need, then teach them how to properly communicate that need. This will later in life be useful to them when they grow up and have to socialize.
I had to research a lot about autism disorder since obviously, we don’t have any systems here that cater to such needs. For example, a parent of an autistic kid needs to know that these children don’t have what is called the ‘stranger danger’ which can be translated broadly of being aware of any danger at all from anything not known or familiar to them, including strangers. Because of this, they need to be closely monitored all the time. Taking a kid like this to school without properly giving them the training to follow specific directions can be hazardous. They may easily get lost, kidnapped, or even get caught in an accident. In the West, they have schools that cater to children with autism. These schools have special teachers that use special methods of training and learning to get through to the children. The schools also provide all the necessary safe spaces that focus on minimizing dangers associated with autistic situations.
It could be a whole stressful experience when you cannot get inside the head of a kid and know what they want easily. The sleepless nights manifest into anxiety in the lives of the parents, the fear that maybe something is seriously wrong with a child, and the huge communication barrier that exists. Moreover, the uncertainty of what their future might be particularly when you are not alive and around for guidance is the weighted concern for many parents.
It came as a relief to know that kids with autism are just kids with special needs when it comes to how they receive training and learn new things. they are Kids that need to be navigated in the right direction that society decides is the norm. Often times they are geniuses because their brains are on another level out of nowhere they may surprise you with an ability or a dexterity that you never thought they are capable of accomplishing.
Yet, teaching them needs a lot of patience and understanding. As a parent of an autistic kid, you must know sometimes you’ll have to repeat something a millionth times before you expect to see them repeat it. That’s not because their brain is too slow to capture, but rather because they only do things on their own terms. They live in their own world, by their own rules that may not conform with the norm and really don’t care about what’s going on externally.
For the parents out there that might feel frustrated, fearful, and sometimes even ashamed that their kids might never turn out to be normal like other kids, I’d say, With the correct training applied, these kids can be exceptional at learning and would and totally be successful in life like anybody else if not even more. There are thousands of autistic children that grew up and became doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, writers, business gurus et cetra. They form a category of geniuses that can do things exceptionally well. As for those with severe autism, the best you can do as a parent is to provide a relaxing atmosphere that will assist them to function within their limitations. God creates people on his own terms. A parent of a kid with any disability should never be a source of discrimination against them and must be a source of inspiration and love by helping the child achieve their potentials. As we celebrate Autism Awareness Month, we pray God to bless our children and bestow protection upon them!