Raising A Child On The Spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive and debilitating childhood syndrome. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has no known cause or cure although many viable theories exist. ASD affects how a child develops his/her ability to learn from its environment, be it in the area of language, gross motor behaviour (such as running or walking up steps), fine motor (like writing or holding a pencil), daily living skills ( like using the toilet, buttoning their shirt), and in their ability to interact with others. Although there are some well known indicators of autism, each child’s presentation of the disorder is unique.

Therefore it is recommended that the treatment strategy should be planned according to the needs of the child and the family. Autism occurs when the normal development of the brain is affected for some yet unknown reason, and the brain does not develop within the normal parameters. Hence adaptive behaviours are not acquired adequately and the child does not learn to acquire age appropriate behaviours, such as, making eye contact, responding to their name when called and learning to communicate both verbally and or nonverbally. In this vacuum of learning through observation, many behaviours and mannerisms appropriate in children in the first year or two continue to remain even to adulthood. That is why an early detection, followed by treatment that encompasses all the areas, is of utmost importance. In many cases with early detection and appropriate intervention starting as early as 1-3 years of age can achieve normal developmental milestones. It is equally important that treatment plans include strategies that use the child’s strengths and interests to deal with their areas of weakness.

A positive intervention strategy needs to first and foremost target the ASD child’s ability to communicate with his/her caregivers. Hence language skills need to be assessed: both what the child understands and is able to speak. A child with ASD frequently has weak muscles in their hands and fingers, or they are hypersensitive to textures, which leads to an inability to learn the simple activity of using a spoon or a pencil. Difficulties controlling their impulses, a tendency to express their angst in a physical manner, are all behaviours typical of a toddler. Most children as they grow older learn to replace these behaviours with verbal expressions which the child with ASD does not have.

Therefore it is also of the utmost importance to teach the parents strategies on how to handle these meltdowns, or use rewards to change socially inappropriate behaviours. Even as much as 10 years ago, it was believed that a majority of children with ASD were also functioning significantly below the average range of intelligence. Latest research has indicated otherwise. Current measures of intellectual functioning such as the Wechsler, Binet and Reynolds are not designed to take into account certain areas of significant weakness seen in ASD children. Which is why they should not be viewed as an overall indicator of intellectual functioning, but rather as measure of their strengths and weaknesses. Many children with mild autism and Asperger’s Syndrome can achieve high levels of intellectual success. We have authors, poets, scientists, artists who are all within the spectrum.

Many adults with autism are successful in their various careers and are contributing members of society. A supportive family, early and appropriate intervention targeting their areas of weakness has enabled them to succeed at home, in school and society as a whole. A mother raising her child with special needs has to be braver and stronger than the average parent. Things that most of us as parents take for granted, such as seeing that first smile, our child reaching their arms out to be picked up, hearing their first words, are not what these mothers are rewarded with. Children who have autism get mesmerized by a flickering light or the changing shades on the window. They tend to shy away from people because we overwhelm them. All our changing expressions, tones of voice, facial movements that we inadvertently emulate during a conversation are almost too much information for their brain to process simultaneously.

Therefore, from only a few months of age children with autism shy away and are unable to process and integrate average conversational behaviour. Soon this behaviour of attending to the various aspects of a conversation disappears from their normal repertoire of responses. Thus from a very young age they stop learning how to conduct conversational behaviour and hence do not acquire this typical developmental milestone. So in order to behave like the average child, the child with ASD has to be taught to recognize the varying facial expressions, changing tones, and respond back in a similar manner.

ASD affects not only how the child experiences the world around them but also how their families function in society. These children are beautiful, intelligent, creative and talented. They are not crazy or handicapped. They deserve our compassion, our understanding, our respect and our help. We as a developing nation need to create an environment where there is acceptance and tolerance for differences. All children are miracles from God. I would go so far as to say that how we as Bangladeshis treat our children with special needs is a reflection on how we are going to advance as a nation. A nation that does not help and respect our most vulnerable members is a society that is destined to be unsuccessful.

Author :  Sheikh Hasina’s daughter Saima Hossain Putul

Source: www.bdnews24.com, September 15, 2010

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