By Jennie Young
Kerry Margo, a best-selling author and motivational speaker who has autism, once said, “Autism can’t define me. I define autism.”. Kerry Margo has not let autism control his life. Despite the major challenges he has faced because of the way his autism affects him, he has become an award-winning speaker and a very successful author. It is important to remember that despite the symptoms and effects that autism might bring into a person’s life, they are still a person who simply has a disorder out of their control.
Autism is a part of many disorders on the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) list. Each individual with autism is affected differently by their autism. Many symptoms of autism involve problems with social situations and communication. The majority of common effects of autism fall into three basic categories: Social deficits, language impairment, and repetitive behaviors. There are also other symptoms often associated with autism that does not fit well into any of these categories. Many children who have autism are very social at a young age, but as they grow and become toddlers often start to steer away from social interaction. Many persons with autism have difficulty understanding social gestures. Gestures like smiles, waves, thumbs up, or frowning don’t change the meaning of the words a person says like it would for everyone else.
People with autism don’t interpret these social cues as everyone else would. Individuals with autism often fail to understand that everyone else has feelings and goals that may be different than their own. All of these things, make it difficult for persons with autism to understand and interact with others. Some individuals with autism also have trouble controlling their emotions. This symptom is not felt by everyone with autism, but it is also not uncommon for them to experience. Many people who are with an individual with autism may say that they are “immature”. They may say that the individual displays emotions by doing things such as crying or yelling at improper times. In some cases, an overwhelming or stressful situation may lead to them becoming physically aggressive or rowdy behavior.
As for communication, children with autism often fall behind in this area. Most children begin to say a word or two, respond to their name, and use gestures to tell people what they want around the age of one. Young children or infants who have autism are often deferred in this area of language. There are some infants who will have the ability to babble and begin to develop minute language skills. These communication traits will often become lost as they grow older. The majority of individuals with autism do gain the ability to use spoken language and sufficiently communicate with others. For some people, it may take some form of therapy to help them obtain these skills. For children and even adults, who are nonverbal and unable to gain the ability to speak, they learn different ways to communicate. Pictures, sign language, electronic word processors, and speech-generating devices have all been used by nonverbal individuals as ways of communicating with those around them.
Each individual’s level of communication varies. Some people have very developed language and a surprisingly extensive vocabulary but are not able to hold a conversation with someone. Some people with autism may repeat a few lines over and over. These words could come from a movie they have seen, a song, or just something they heard someone else says. Along with the inability to communicate well, often times individuals, even adults, with autism, have a struggle interpreting body language. Things like tone of voice and facial expressions don’t change the meaning of the words. Sarcasm is very hard for them to detect and understand as they believe you mean everything you say literally. Since they cannot interpret things like tone of voice and facial expression, they also don’t know how to use them. Their voice and body language may not always represent how they are actually feeling. They may say something they are really excited about in a very flat voice, but the person they are speaking to is unable to understand that they are actually excited about it. Situations like these can cause lots of frustration for someone with autism because they feel like they are not being heard and understood correctly. There are ways that children and adults with autism can learn to successfully communicate their needs, wants, and feelings to others.
Repetitive behaviors are engaged in by everyone. Some people tap their foot every time they sit down. Some people rock on their feet when they stand. For each person it is different, and for people with autism, it is often excessive. Individuals everywhere use repetitive behaviors as a way to calm themselves and relieve stress. Individuals with autism often engage in these behaviors to relieve the stress of a situation or to help them feel some control of a situation. They engage in activities like hand-flapping, jumping and twirling, repeating a word or sound, and arranging and rearranging objects. While children without autism would spend two hours playing with some toys, a child with autism may spend that same two hours lining up and organizing their toys. The same thing transfers over into their everyday life. Routine and consistency are important to maintain in the life of someone with autism as well. Even slight changes in their routine can cause lots of stress and outburst by someone with autism.
Autism is a disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s life. The variety of behavioral aspects of these effects is seen by many people who interact with someone with autism.