by Brian M. Williams
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that effects social interaction, cognitive abilities and emotional development. It is a disorder with no known cause and no cure. Early intervention and public awareness, coupled with strong research efforts are making huge strides to improve the quality of life for autistic individuals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder. ASDs occur in groups of every race, nation, culture and economic background. Symptoms typically emerge between 18 months and 36 months of age. Autistic children are high-needs, and they and their families need the support of their communities to dispel myths and prevent mistreatment.
Many children with autism establish eye contact. It may be less than or different from the typical child, but they do look at people, smile, and express many other wonderful non-verbal communications.
The myth that a genius is hidden in a child with autism may exist because of the uneven nature of the skills that many children exhibit. Children with autism may have splendid physical skills, but no functional language. A child may remember the birthday of every child in his class at school, yet be unable to determine when to use the pronouns "you" or "me" appropriately. A child may read with perfect articulation and not understand the meaning of what he has read. Children with autism exhibit a full range of IQ scores. Most children with autism will exhibit significant delays in some areas of mental processing. A very small percentage exhibit above normal intelligence; an equally small percentage of children exhibit very low intellectual functioning.
Many children with autism develop good functional language. Most other children can develop some communication skills, such as use of sign language, pictures, computers, or electronic devices.
Probably one of the most devastating myths for families is the misconception that children with autism cannot give and receive affection and love. We know that sensory stimulation is processed differently by some children with autism, causing them to have difficulty expressing affection in conventional ways. Giving and receiving love from a child with autism may require a willingness to accept and give love on the child's terms. Sometimes the challenge for parents is waiting until the child can risk a greater connection. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends may not understand a child's aloofness, but can learn to appreciate and respect his/her capacity for connection with others.