I have worked with children with Autism spectrum disorder over the last 3 years. As soon as people hear what I do they try recall everything they have heard or read about Autism spectrum disorder. Some of it true and some of it not so true, but what always stands out for me is that they start their sentence with “I’ve heard that they are _” and you can fill in the blank with anything from “actually very clever” to “only good in one specific thing and nothing else”. For some reason this always gets to me, because no they are not that one thing that you have read or heard about. They are individuals whom, like everyone else have their own strengths and weaknesses. Yes, of course there are common deficits and characteristics that they all have as stated in the DSM-5. The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Autism spectrum disorder is:
1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.
2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following.
3. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of current functioning.
Children with Autism spectrum disorder will all have symptoms mentioned above but it manifests differently in each child. If you look at the definition of the word spectrum, “it is used to classify something in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme points”, hence we call it Autism Spectrum disorder. Not one child can be classified or seen the same way as another child on the spectrum. Some are seen as high support needs kids and others as low support need kids. If we look at the leg communication and social interaction in the diagnostic criteria, we see children that are vocal but not verbal. We see children that are not vocal at all. We see children that can speak but struggles to communicate effectively. We see children that are fully verbal and are able to communicate but struggles to interact with others and has no interest in socializing with others. We see children that loves to interact with others but needs a lot of support to be able to communicate effectively and hold a purposeful conversation. This is just an example of how far and wide the spectrum ranges and how we cannot assume anything when looking at a child with Autism spectrum disorder.
As professionals in the field, as parents and relative, as a citizen living in society with people with Autism spectrum disorder, it is extremely important to not only see the diagnosis in front of us, but to really see the individual in front of us. To look at his/her individual needs. To look at their strengths and work with their strengths to enable them to learn. To look at their weaknesses and support them in those areas. Living in a society where Autism spectrum disorder’s prevalence is increasing drastically it is so important to educate yourself and to be mindful when speaking about Autism Spectrum disorder. It is important to remember “Autism is a spectrum disorder. No two people with autism are alike” and “If you’ve met one child with autism spectrum disorder, you’ve met one child with autism spectrum disorder.”