April 2nd was world Autism Awareness Day, but what is autism?
According to Autism speaks (www.autismspeaks.org/) autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences.
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects each individual differently. Doctors diagnose one in 189 girls, and one in forty-two boys with autism each year. That’s a lot. And yet we still know so little about autism.
I’ve given you the clinical definition of autism, now let me share how I see autism after spending time with my grandson, J.
Imagine being locked in a box of slightly wavy, super-strong plexiglass. You have everything you need inside that box to allow you to survive. You’re content in your own little world, happy even. Suddenly, someone outside the box taps on the glass, trying to get your attention. Speaking to you in an alien language. Disrupting your world.
You’re curious, and smart—oh, so very smart—so you try to reach back but you’re blocked, trapped. That blasted plexiglass box is in the way. You try to find ways out of it or through it but it’s too thick. The box distorts the way you see things outside. Twists the sounds you hear into words that sound like a made up language, like Klingon. The more you try to communicate, the more the outside world pushes in, the harder it is. Imagine that frustration building up.
Then that day comes. You find a crack in the box. You say something they understand. The celebration begins. It’s a small step, but it’s forward progress. You’re still not out of the box, but you’re building portals and gateways that lead to the outside world.
GLENDA THOMPSON is a writer from Charlotte, TX. She is writing a series on Autism. These are a combination of research and personal experiences. She has two grandchildren in different places on the spectrum.