As some of you may be aware, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an intricate lifelong mental condition that covers a wide range of disorders and affects many people. The NHS website states that it is estimated, that in the UK, 1 out of 100 people have ASD.
Autism is somewhat of a mystery, in the sense that there is no exact known cause. Researchers and specialists generally accept that is down to abnormalities in brain structure and function. Children with autism have a differing shape and structure of the brain when compared to neurotypical children. This can be due to a wide range of environmental and genetic factors but no one is sure, at all, what the true reason is.
Autism is not just one condition, but an umbrella term for mainly three different types of disorders. For example, Autism is like “science”; it is its own type of subject but is made up of three predominant groups. However, instead of biology, chemistry, and physics, it is instead Autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Development disorder.
In this article I will be mainly focusing on one type of Autism; the type I have the most experience with and know the most about, and that is Asperger Syndrome or Asperger's (as it is usually called).
As you may have noticed from the diagram above, Asperger's is on the high functioning side of the spectrum. This means that, although they are autistic, people with the condition can go on to have independent and normal lives, without needing constant supervision. They have milder symptoms and can be extremely academically gifted. This, of course, doesn't mean all. Some will be unable to go on to be independent and may have to rely on other family members.
In my family I have a few people with Asperger's; one is extremely academically smart and another is just not the academic type. They both have the same condition, but like any other type of mental disability, have different severities and are affected in different ways. One was diagnosed as an adult, due to their intelligence masking it, whilst the other was diagnosed around the age of four. It all depends on what you are given.
Children with Asperger's can become obsessed within certain areas; whether that be stars, trains, ants, or a TV show. Just like everyone, they have their own interests. However they become devoted to finding out more and more.
Children with Asperger's also have difficulty with social interactions and can have quite clumsy looking movements. Their senses are usually heightened, resulting in normal scenarios to be quite scary.
For example, have you ever seen a young child screaming and crying in a supermarket? Their parent might ask them to calm down but usually the child doesn't speak back, instead just continues crying.
Your first thought may be to go “wow, what a brat.” however this might be far from the truth.
Lights in supermarkets are extremely bright and, for an autistic child or a child with Asperger's, can be very dazzling and even painful. Also, they usually emit a hum sound. You might hear this noise sometimes, if the supermarket is quiet, but a child with Asperger's can usually to hear it much louder. The beeping of the tills, whirring of air conditioners, people chattering and the rustling of paper bags can be a lot to take in. This doesn't include all the smells of food, the feel of your clothes on your body, and all the sights.
The sensory overload can cause confusion and pain for the child resulting in them to start crying and screaming. It is incredibly hard, as a parent or guardian, to try and calm your child down as you have no control over the brightness or sound of the lights or anything in the store. You just needed to go buy some food. So harsh glances and muttering from strangers are in no way beneficial.
To finish off this article, I am going to talk about 3 myths about Asperger's:
1. People with Asperger's don't like being touched, ever.
This is a common misunderstanding. Like any one, people with Asperger's have a personal preference on physical contact. It may not be the actual touch that causes them to feel uncomfortable but other things, such as the person being too close or the feel of that persons breath on their face. Usually very young children with Asperger's won't want to be touched by those who aren't their family members however will cuddle for hours with those they trust; just like normal people.
2. Parenting a child with Asperger's is easier than parenting a child who has a different type of autism.
Each comes with their own challenges and is therefore, not easy to just simply compare. It is much harder to notice if a child has Asperger's compared to autism. Other adults and children might just see them as quirky and not having a mental disability. This can cause children with Asperger's to not be understood and have too much pressure placed onto them, as they appear just like any other child.
3. Children and people with Asperger's don't have empathy.
It is not that they lack empathy but rather they find it difficult to see the signs that someone is sad. It is difficult to read facial expressions or notice the tone change in someone's voice. Children with Asperger's might not notice you are angry until you start shouting, which will then result in them being shocked or upset themselves at the sudden outburst. The same goes for sadness. They might not pick up on the signs until you are crying. This might cause shock and result in them not knowing how to handle the situation. Those in my family with Asperger's are extremely compassionate people. One will walk into a room, tell me “I love you” then walk out. One was not allowed to hug me as a baby as they hugged me so often and so tightly they were worried I might get hurt. They love to give hugs and ask what's wrong the times when they do notice you are sad or lonely.
The same goes with animals. Sometimes children with Asperger's can be heavy handed, resulting in it appearing like they visually want to hurt an animal. However once told they have to be gentle,
they usually try their very hardest to slowly stroke the dogs fur or carefully hand the hamster it's treat, ensuring not to hurt the creature in the process.
They are some of the kindest and loving people I know.
Asperger's is a very confusing, intricate and mysterious disability at times and can be very misunderstood. I hope this article has educated you and answered some questions you might not have even realised you had!
Don't jump to conclusions, and do keep an open mind. People aren't always the way they appear.
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers with a platform to share and help others from their own experiences while also educating others on different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all teenagers around the world and support others. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.