All About Autism.
Hello! Welcome back! Hope everyones exams went well if you had them!
So, I’m back again with another topic, and I have recently become very interested in Autism. So, in this blog I am going to tell you all a little bit about it.
Autism is a developmental disability which has recently become more commonly known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and has become recognised as existing on part of a wide spectrum, meaning that it effects different people to different degrees. At one end of the spectrum, there are people who have very limited language and are isolated within their own world. Whereas, there are people who are very high functioning, and who may not be recognisable as having Autism, until they get overwhelmed and show some signs of the disorder. These people may very much want to socialise and fit in, but simply lack the social skills, communication skills and understanding to be able to.
There are a number of theories that have tried to provide an understanding of the disorder, to help to understand why people with Autism behave in the unique ways that they do, and to try to explain how it may have developed.
In 1999, Baron-Cohen found that autistic individuals reading facial expressions had less activation in the front part of the brain (a part of the brain that is involved in empathy), and no activation in the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain), compared to others, who showed a lot of activity in both regions. This suggests that people with autism did not show empathy as much as others without autism – they couldn’t understand how other people were feeling. It also suggests that autistic individuals did not show emotional understanding – they couldn’t read other people’s facial expressions or understand the emotions they may be feeling. This supports the idea that Autistic people lack the social skills that a lot of us take for granted.
Imagine how hard it would be not being able to read a person’s face…if they’re bored, sad, angry etc. How hard would it be to interact with others?
Autism has been linked to the MMR vaccine, with a lot of mothers noticing that their children started to develop autistic tendencies shortly after receiving the vaccine. Research has been done into the area, mainly statistical studies of large populations. Studies have overwhelmingly found no link between autism and MMR.
On top of all this people with Autism will probably have trouble making eye-contact, reading facial expressions and being able to read body language. For example, if a person with Autism is speaking with you and you’re bored – rather than telling them you’re bored you may decide to be polite and subtly yawn. However, a person with Autism would not be able to read this. They would probably take it very literally and assume that you’re tired, rather than bored with the conversation. If you ask someone with Autism ‘What’s up?’ they would take this question very literally and tell you that clouds are up, the sky is up etc.
People with Autism like to have a solid routine, and may get very distressed when this routine is disturbed. An Autistic person may get up every single day at 6.30am, go to the bathroom, eat their breakfast etc. While you may think that we all have routines from day to day, this is very different if you’re autistic. If this routine is disturbed, it can lead to the person feeling like they don’t have control and panicing. When Autistic people do get overwhelmed, they have certain ways to deal with this. Common behaviours include arm- or hand-flapping, finger-flicking, rocking, jumping, spinning or twirling, head-banging and complex body movements. People with Autism also have sensory sensitivity, and may be over/under sensitive to things such as light, sound, smells and touch. Autisitc people generally do NOT like being touched. However, when they do get overwhelmed, pressure seems to help. Weighted blankets are often used to help calm people on the autism spectrum.
Interestingly enough, this was discovered after looking at cows on their way to slaughter…lovely.
Temple Grandin, who was herself on the autism spectrum, realised that nervous cattle seemed to relax when they entered a squeeze chute (a piece of equipment that squeezed the cows). Grandin decided to try out the method on herself to try and tackle her own anxiety issues. Further research into this found that the pressure depresses the sympathetic nervous system and slows the heart and metabolic rates, which helps to calm people (and cows, I guess..) down.
Autistic people are also very intelligent. They often have photographic memories and have very high IQs. A study found that people with Autisim scored, on average, 30 percentile points, and in some cases 70 points higher than people without Autism. ( http://psych.wisc.edu/lang/pdf/Dawson_AutisticIntelligence_PS_2007.pdf ).
For anyone who does want to learn more, a simple google search will bring you tons! However, I found this website:
which is the National Autistic Society website. There is so much to learn from there, including first hand testimonials from people who have Autism and understanding the behaviour.
Also, for anyone who likes to read, I would highly reccomend the novel which got me interested in Autism in the first place:
House Rules, by Jodi Picoult. This gives first person story lines from Jacob, a boy who has autism, his brother, his mother and more. I found it amazingly interesting to read from Jacobs point of view and it truly sparked an interest.
There is so so so much more I could tell you about Autistic people, but I would more than likely lose your attention. Even though there are a lot of theories, nobody knows for sure what causes autism. If it is something that you find interesting, please do some more research on it. It is very interesting to learn about, but most importantly, it helps us to understand different people and maybe next time you see a person flapping their hands or moving strangely, you’ll think about other causes for the behaviour rather than simply that they’re strange. Maybe you can understand how an autistic mind works and interact with someone socially in a way they can enjoy, which is something the majority of autisic people want desperately, but simply don’t know how to do. This is certainly what’s happened for me. Autistic people are no different from you or me, they just have ‘quirks’ and have a unique way of seeing things.
Thanks for reading again. Cya next time.