On April 2, World Autism Day was observed for the fifteenth time since being adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. Before then, there was not a lot of advocacy and awareness on the topic, and even today, there exist numerous grey areas where public education on the topic is concerned. Now, Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month is observed through April each year!
What is Autism?
The official term for Autism is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). According to the National Institute for Mental Health, ASD is “a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave.” It is regarded as a developmental disorder appearing in the first two years of a patient’s life, though it is sometimes not detected for many years, oftentimes because families are unable to diagnose some of the conditions on their own.
This disability is assessed on a ‘spectrum’, since the way it affects a person can vary from mild to severe. Some people who are on the mild spectrum can use their disorder to their advantage, oftentimes being able to identify intricate details and possessing photographic memory. Those on the severe end of the spectrum might require considerable physical assistance and care to go about their daily lives, and might be unable to participate in a physical classroom setting or workplace.
Some of the popular people with autism include Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Mozart, Leonel Messi, and Elon Musk.
Common Symptoms and Behaviours associated with ASD
Since the disorder manifests on a spectrum, different Autistic persons experience different symptoms and behaviors under several broad categories. According to the Center for Diseases Control, the symptoms can normally be identified within the first few years of life, and include:
- Poor Social and Communication Skills
- Might not show facial expressions
- Might not make eye contact with others
- Might not play pretend, sing, or dance by age 5
- Might not make a lot of gestures like waving goodbye or clapping
- Might not join other children to play by age 3
- Restricted or Repetitive Behaviour
- Might repeat words over and over
- Might be obsessed with keeping toys and possessions lined up in order
- Might get extremely upset with routines are broken
- Might make grunting or other unusual sounds repeatedly
- Might enjoy spinning around in circles for extended times
- Delayed Development
- Might not start saying basic words until after 18 months
- Might be hyperactive or extremely quiet and inactive
- Might have unusual eating and sleeping habits
- Might be extremely fearful or extremely fearless
- Might exhibit extreme emotional reactions
To date, there is no known cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Treatment exists, however, and varies based on the severity and nature of symptoms. According to Mayo Clinic, treatment is focused on intervention, especially in the earlier stages of life. Behaviour, Language, and Educational therapy exist to help patients accelerate some of the key life skills that the disorder impairs. Therapy is also important for families and care providers, allowing them to feel empowered and to get some mental and emotional relief. Doctors may prescribe medication in extreme situations, and the medication would be to treat specific symptoms like depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, hyperactivity, and others.
Autism in Belize
Like with the rest of the world, Autism awareness in Belize has been increasing as of late. The organization Autism Belize has been leading the charge! They have been providing learning resources to patients, affected families, care providers, and the wider public. By promoting awareness, they are contributing to greater understanding and acceptance, removing misconceptions and myths.
RF&G Life is proud of the work that Autism Belize has been doing, and we join them in lighting up Belize Blue in recognition of Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month!