What is Autism?


The month of April is National Autism Awareness Month. The best way for me to celebrate is to share, to educate, and to write – which I do best.

I understand.  Autism – land of the unknown and forever a mystery.  Autism – repetitive behavior, strange blunt language, tantrums galore.

Autism is a condition of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. Parents usually notice signs in the first two years of their child’s life. The signs usually develop gradually, but some autistic children first develop more normally and then regress. Early behavioral or cognitive intervention can help autistic children gain self-care, social, and communication skills. NO cure, yet, has been found.

Autism has touched my life in so many different ways.  First with my stepson, Lee, and the first impression of him was a nervous man child with a boy’s mind. He seemed aloof, lacked eye contact, had minimum language and social skills, and avoided human affection and touch.

Second was with Temple, a HBO film about Temple Grandlin, an autistic woman who revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock.  I probably have seen this movie 4 or 5 times.  Temple was something I could relate to and associate with, for I too have a disability, Cerebral Palsy. Temple’s mother refused to listen to the physician’s negative advice. She helped Temple adapt to the everyday world. Her mother hired a speech therapist, which worked with Temple and enabled her to acquire language.  I attended a special school – Institute of Logopedics (combining the Greek words for “word” and “child”) in Wichita Kansas.  I attended speech therapy,  physical therapy, occupational therapy and I learned to adapt just like Temple did when she made the “squeezing machine”.  The machine hugs both sides of her to calm her down, as she controls the pressure, and it makes her relaxed whenever she becomes tense. Temple has overcome a tremendous amount of challenges in her own way and I can relate to that.

Ever since Lee and Temple, I have studied and research autism as a hobby. The person with autism is just like you or me -eats, sleeps and breathes.  That person may only eat chicken nuggets and chocolate milk for dinner, whereas, you may have a well -balanced meal BUT that is that how that person rolls. I may eat a bowl of popcorn for dinner BUT that’s how I roll.

We are all different.  The sun might be brighter, the tv might be louder and the smell of that candle might be too strong for a person with autism. That’s why they cover their eyes or ears or may scream because it is sensory overload.  Absolutely I can relate.  I have dry eyes and a symptom is sensitive to sun light, I prefer silence to noise, and cannot stand overpowering perfume.

The number of people diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically since the 1980s, partly due to changes in diagnostic practice and acceptance among society.  The numbers of organizations and websites have grown. Awareness is all around you.

I am surrounded by dear friends with children with autism. I welcome the association in hoping I might learn something new by the interaction.

It is a land of the unknown.  But I know I am richer by my association with Lee and because of Temple I am knowledgeable and understanding of autism.