Autism is a topic of growing interest among professionals and families in today’s context world over. It could be because of the increase in the number of children being diagnosed with this disorder. Recent research has found that one in every 150 children born in the US is diagnosed with autism.
Myth: People on the Autism Spectrum can’t function and live independently
Often the belief is that people on the autism spectrum can never be “normal”, or go on to live independently taking care of their own needs. People with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) don’t necessarily have the same symptoms as it belongs to a wide and varied spectrum. There could be some people on this spectrum who have difficulty with basic daily tasks while others on the spectrum could function just like their “normal” peers. Most people with ASD may have difficulty with social skills and social situations but they can function independently and take care of their basic needs. So it shouldn’t be generalized that all people with an autism spectrum disorder can’t function and live independently.
Myth: People on the Autism Spectrum are mentally challenged
Many people think that persons on the autism spectrum are mentally challenged and exhibit “weird” behaviours. However, there are people with ASD who not only have normal intelligence but are high functioning. For example Temple Grandin is one such individual. Dr. Grandin is a world famous animal scientist who designs livestock handling equipment for large corporations such as McDonalds. Temple Grandin went on to obtain a masters degree and a PhD. Some children with ASD are “savants”. This means that they could have a specific skill that they are very good at. At a school that I work at, one of the students is “hyperlexic”; he at the age of 5 years can read almost any word put in front of him. This again re-iterates that autism is a disorder on a spectrum, so not all people with ASD are the same.
Myth: People on the Autism Spectrum are unable to talk or communicate verbally
It is a common myth that a person on the autism spectrum is unable to talk or communicate verbally. Although there are some children with ASD who do not communicate verbally, there may be others who are able to express themselves very well. Most people would not even realize that these people are on the spectrum until you pay close attention to their conversation and notice that, they tend to monopolize the conversation with one particular topic. People with ASD who are non-verbal or minimally verbal may use alternative modes of communication such as communicating with pictures or using speech generating communication devices. Another common myth among people and parents is that if students with ASD use pictures or devices that talk for them, they will never learn to talk themselves. Recent research dispels this. Research shows that people using alternative modes to communicate not only improve their language skills but also tend to verbally communicate more. I have experienced this first hand with students I work with. I have seen many of them increase their intent or want to communicate which is very significant as this targets the social communication aspect of ASD and social interaction and communication are two of the major deficit areas seen across the spectrum with children with ASD.
Myth: Children on the Autism Spectrum are unable to function in a regular classroom
It is also thought that children on the autism spectrum are unable to function in a regular classroom and that they would need to attend a school/classroom with other students with ASD. From my experience at my school we have been able to mainstream students with ASD in to the regular classroom by providing them with the adequate support they need. For example, one student attends a regular class for maths along with a teacher’s assistant. The assistant sits besides this student and ensures he is focused on tasks and following along with the rest of the class. The assistant also helps to control any undesirable behaviour and is also able to provide the student with necessary breaks which help keep focused. Although often it would be difficult to provide this kind of 1:1 support for a single student, when it is an option it should definitely be tried. This particular student is doing very well in the maths class. By being around his regular functioning peers he is learning the social norms and interactions which are often very difficult to teach a student with ASD.
Truth: Each person on the spectrum is different, there is no one thing that will work for everyone
There is a still a lot we need to learn about people with ASD. Often times they can be difficult to understand and we could be at a loss in knowing how to help them. Each person on the spectrum is different, there is no one thing that will work for everyone. The key is to figure out what works for your particular child. From my experience, I have found that if we are able to provide them with the right kind of support and structure they can learn and make great progress.
Copyright Nimisha Muttiah (MSc, CCC-SLPSpeech Language Pathologist.)