Friday, April 11, 2008

Autism Speaks

I dropped in at one of Ellie’s places again today. It’s always worth the visit; thank you, Ellie. She has a link to a video – every time someone watches it, $0.40 is donated to Autism Speaks. Here’s a link to the organization’s site in Canada as well.

There’s a child in my extended family who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at age 14. Autism and Asperger Syndrome are types of PDD: Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Neurologists explained to our family that Asperger is a social communication handicap, at the high-functioning end of the autism continuum. That was 12 years ago.

That child is now an adult. He completed high school, taking an extra year to do so, because he needed extra help. He took a training course at Amity/Goodwill, learning how to work in a retail environment, and then worked four years for Blockbuster Video, without ever telling them of his diagnosis. One of his areas of intense focus was movies and video games anyway (yeah, I know, you think your kid has that – hah!) and he was exceptionally gifted at remembering what regular customers liked, and recommending things they’d like next. Now, he’s working full-time as a security guard. Graduated to full-time recently, and is getting ready to move out into his own apartment. His parents thought, at one point, he would be living with them, or with assistance, forever. Good education and training opportunities do make a difference in autistic children.

If you'd like to see a success story about a child who was diagnosed with severe autism in 1950, look up Dr. Temple Grandin. She is now an Assosicate Professor at Colorado State University, specializing in animal behaviour. She was the subject of the title study in Oliver Sach's book, "An Anthropologist from Mars". She's also written books on autism: "Emergence: Labelled Austistic"; "Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from my Life with Autism"; and her newest, winner of the Foreword Book of the Year Award in 2006, "Unwriteen Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries through the Unique Perspectives of Autism", co-authored by Sean Barron and Veronica Zysk.

For another, there's Albert Einstein. Many experts in the PDD field believe he had Asperger Syndrome.

When PDD kids can talk, they often miss other levels of communication – body language, facial expression, tone of voice … Think about how much meaning those things convey. It’s a sensory-overload disorder. Making eye contact while talking was impossible for this child. If you’re always looking over the right shoulder of the person you’re talking to, you hear a lot of adults-in-authority saying, “You’re not paying attention! Look at me while I’m talking to you!” And peers don’t talk to you at all, unless they’re bullying.

One day, someone said to this Person-Living-With-Asperger (he was about 21 then), “You’re looking me in the eye while I’m talking to you!” “No, he said “I learned what to do about that. I look here [pointed to the “third eye” in the forehead between the eyebrows], and then people THINK I’m looking them in the eye, and they’re more comfortable.” Autism/Asperger/PDD is NOT a hopeless diagnosis -- but much support and help are needed.

1 comment:

Oystercard said...

Thanks for this Kate and the links.