Light it up blue! - World Autism Awareness
Lets light it up blue! Last week, we took part in World Autism Awareness Week, with a special celebration on Monday April 2nd which was World Autism Awareness Day. Continue to help us in raising awareness for people affected by Autism. Yesterday we saw people from all over the world wearing blue, and cities lit up their prominent buildings with blue in an effort to increase understanding and acceptance of people living with Autism.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a persistent neuro-developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates, relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. Often symptoms of ASD develop gradually, and parents will usually notice signs by around 2 yrs of age, when it becomes apparent they are not meeting their developmental milestones (1). Sometimes though, the symptoms can be subtle and may not be obvious until school age or even later in life. In Australia, around 1% of the population has ASD1 with males being 4 times more likely to be diagnosed than females. The cause of Autism is not clearly understood but it appears to be a complex interaction of both genetic and environmental factors (3).
What are the characteristics of ASD?
Just as every person has their own unique traits, it is important to understand that ASD presents differently in each person, with a wide range of possible challenges as well as abilities. Many people with ASD live completely independent lives however others need support in most aspects of life.
Difficulties may include some or all of the following: (4)
Social communication and interaction:
Lack of social-emotional reciprocity
Lack of non verbal communication
Difficulty in developing and maintaining friendships
Lack of eye contact when speaking
Restricted repetitive behaviours:
Excessive adherence to routines, patterns or behaviour and experiencing distress with changes
Repetitive speech, movements, or use of objects
Hypo or hyper reactivity to sensory input such as sound, pain, textures
Restricted or fixed interests
Aggressive towards people or themselves
People with ASD often have difficulty with social skills and communication. Some people on the autism spectrum never develop language, while others might have very good verbal language skills. They may have difficulty interpreting or using non-verbal communication such as eye contact, facial expressions and gestures. This means that they may come across as being disinterested or appear to not regard the feelings of other people. It is easy to see how making and keeping friendships can be challenging for some people with ASD (2).
If you have a friend, family member or colleague with ASD it can be helpful to try and see the world from the individual’s perspective, and plan ahead to avoid potential challenges. People with an ASD often cope better when they have time to prepare for a social event, and cope less well when plans are changed or if a situation is unexpected. Walking into a room full of people and lots of activity can often be overwhelming for some on the autism spectrum, so be mindful that this person may be more comfortable when in a smaller group or ‘one on one’. What is obvious to you, may not be obvious to them, particularly when it comes to social expectations. Things that are “implied” in a conversation may be completely missed, so it can helpful to be direct with requests and expectations.
Common Associated Conditions
Research indicates that people with ASD also commonly have associated emotional and/or behavioural conditions5 and may need to seek additional support for these, which can include:
Seizures and Epilepsy
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Show your support by sharing photos of yourself in blue wherever you might be and let us know if you managed to see the Perth Bell Tower, which took part of this international day of awareness for Autism! By increasing awareness about ASD we can all help foster understanding and acceptance.
Here are some helpful resources with more information about ASD and how you can take part in World Autism Awareness Day.
For more information about Autism Awareness Week, head to Autism Association of WA
Chaste,P & Leboyer, M, (2012), Autism risk factors: genes, environment, and gene-environment interactions, Dialogues Clin Neurosci. Sep; 14(3): 281–292