When one reads the title of this article one immediately thinks it is about the stats and the impact of Autism in South Africa but it is not. Instead, it’s a trip down imagination lane!
Autism is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact with others. It is characterised by restricted or repetitive behaviour. These include the repetitive movement with objects like fidgeting with a toy, repeated body movements like flapping of hands or rocking as well as some sensory sensitivity. Autism can be a lifelong disorder however treatment is available and can help. Treatments such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) are a medical necessity. Autism affects 1 in 59 children in the United States, and the South Africa statistics are likely to be similar since autism does not discriminate across socio-economic status or location.
Many of the behavioural symptoms of autism are things that we all do. The difference is that they last longer, the individuals don’t grow out of them, or they are more intense and thus lead to interference with social interaction or learning. Many of the symptoms are more noticeable in an individual on the spectrum because they don’t know how to compensate for them or reign them in to socially acceptable levels or find appropriate alternatives for them. So maybe, just maybe, everyone is a little bit on the Autism spectrum in South Africa.
Imagine, if you will, an autistic South Africa. Indulge me in imagining being surrounded my more of the endearing components of an autism diagnosis.
Completely normal behaviour: being nervous when meeting new people. You might look around the room and bit more or break away from eye contact a bit more than if you were talking to someone you had known for years. A person on the spectrum will likely make no eye contact whatsoever, thus appearing rude or unfriendly. Imagine in autistic South Africa, where that is normal and accepted rather than misunderstood or shunned, you simply move yourself into that person’s range of vision and keep talking. Or forget about the social conventions requiring us to make eye contact, and focus on the quality of the verbal exchange!
Completely normal behaviour: telling your friend what you think of their new haircut. The autistic version of this is telling you 100% the truth, all the time, regardless of whether or not it hurts! Many individuals with autism don’t understand the need for deception, for example in the form of a white lie. Imagine, in autistic South Africa, if we all said exactly what we thought all the time! Liberating? Or chaos-causing!
Personally, I would love to spend a day in Autistic South Africa, meeting its people and their refreshingly simple and honest view on the world.