Monday, April 02, 2012

World Autism Awareness Day

Today, April 2nd, is World Autism Awareness Day. 
One of the things I have learned about autism is that we probably miss a lot of symptoms, and my guess is that everyone has an autistic person in their life without knowing it.  The spectrum for Autism is very broad, and probably much broader than we know even now.  Asperger Syndrome has complicated things further. Many Aspys don’t display obvious traits and are never identified, or are identified late in life. This very notion—of a successful, functioning adult firmly placed within the spectrum—is telling. 
There are obvious signs in infants, though some can be cloaked in development that is simply a-typical.
Signs in infants:
  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age *
Aspy children and teens are more elusive, and often never get a diagnosis.  They very often have incredibly high IQ, and we tend to think of smart people as “special,” without wanting to label them negatively.  The label should have no negative stigma, but it does. Many suppose this is why people like Bill Gates, rumored to have Asperger Syndrome, deny or refuse to comment upon it. Ironically, many of the gifts associated with Asperger Syndrome are most likely the very reason for these celebrities’ successes.
Signs of Asperger Syndrome:
  • Engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject
  • Displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures
  • Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes
  • Appearing not to understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others' feelings
  • Having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor
  • Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
  • Moving clumsily, with poor coordination**
What’s important to remember is that many children and adults display some, but not all, symptoms. The spectrum, again, is WIDE.  I know an adult who has nearly all of the Asperger traits except the physical ones: he is very sure of his body and movement,  and is anything but clumsy. But every other symptom is there.
Sources:  *Autism Speaks Learn the Signs  ,  **Mayo Clinic Signs of Asperger Syndrome
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